TITLE: ALL THESE YEARS

ARTIST: SOLAS

LABEL: THL RECORDS

RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 17, 2016

By Anya Sturm

Solas - All These YearsFor the past 20 years, Solas has blurred the line of modern and traditional Irish music. In their new album, All These Years, they blend traditional and contemporary tunes, American and Irish music, and even rock with traditional Celtic energy. Moira Smiley, the new singer, joins the long standing members consisting of Seamus Egan (flute, tenor banjo, mandolin, whistles, guitars, bodhran), Winifred Horan (fiddles, vocals), Eamon McElholm (guitars, keyboards, vocals) and, Mick McAuley (button accordion, vocals). Past Solas members are brought in as guest artists throughout the album, often with Smiley adding interesting harmonies. The personnel combination plus the bands’ non-traditional song choices, make this a cohesive and energetic album.

The first track of the CD, Roarie Bummlers, written by Egan, is an example of the band’s ability to blend old and new styles. Although very syncopated, an aspect more prevalent in modern tunes than traditional reels, the set has the groove of traditional Irish reels with seamless transitions and classic instrumentation of bodhran, fiddle, guitar, flute, tenor banjo, and mandolin. The build-up throughout the set is interesting as each of the three tunes starts off with only a couple instruments playing. The rest of the band joins in gradually and more layers build until the transition to the next tune, where everyone except the guitar and either mandolin or banjo drops out, then builds up again throughout the tune. This arrangement makes the set sound like a spontaneous pub jam, and starts the album with high energy.

No Irish album is complete without slow ballads. On this CD, they are led by Moira Smiley with harmonizing vocals by Horan and McAuley. With sparse instrumentation, the focus is on the vocal blending and storytelling. Solas stays true to traditional music through classic song choices such as Lay Me Down, Standing on the Shore, Wandering Angus, and Padraig Og Mo Chroi.

Although many of Solas’s vocal tracks are traditional, they also take modern American songs and transform them to fit their Celtic sound, helping the surplus of songs not feel tired. The best example is their cover of Darkness Darkness by American folk-rock band, The Youngbloods. Solas’s cover stays true to the original recording, with the same syncopated guitar, however the singing style and mandolin solo turns the song from a generic cover into a unique contemporary-Celtic version. They also cover singer-songwriter Patty Griffin’s Not Alone, and traditional American song Willie Moore, staying true to the original while the instrumentation and interludes sound more traditionally Celtic.

The most unique track of the album is Lost in Quimper. It doesn’t fit in with the rest of the Celtic album, sounding more French-influenced. The overlap of the two genres is shown through instrumentation prevalent in both: the accordion, fiddle, and mandolin all play in unison throughout the tune. Although the eclectic collection of styles can lead to an album sounding thrown together and the band sounding inexperienced, All These Years sounds cohesive through Solas’s classic instrumentation. The different styles sound refreshing rather than unseasoned.

The track right after Lost in Quimper is a Shetland set of an unnamed reel and the famous tune Da New Rigged Ship. Also led by fiddle and accordion, the set is the most generic sounding of the album, however the build of adding banjo, a lower fiddle harmony, and bodhran keeps the track interesting and unique to Solas. The traditional foot-tapping energy of the tunes makes the set my favorite of the album, and helps keep the album from becoming too vocal-oriented.

The final track on the album, the one that the album is named for, shows yet another style of Solas. It is an instrumental lament, led by piano and fiddle, with drones on lower fiddle, an aspect of Celtic music that is recorded less often than reels or ballads. The sparseness of the tune is endearing, and fits well to end the album.

The blend of contemporary fiddle tunes with a traditional groove, modern American songs with Celtic instrumentation, classic Gaelic songs with unique solos in the middle, and traditional tunes with strong energy set All These Years apart from generic Irish albums and opens Solas to a more mainstream audience while staying true to traditional music and appealing to old fans of Solas.

Anya Sturm is a high school student in Santa Monica. She started playing fiddle at age 3 and has since won first place on fiddle, guitar, and mandolin at the Topanga Banjo Fiddle Contest, the Goleta Old-Time Fiddlers Convention, the California State Old Time Fiddlers Association, and the Seaside Scottish Fiddle Contest.