The Poison Glen (Gleann Nimhe) by Altan
by Kerry Dexter
Ireland: it is a land of dreams, and a land people dream of. That’s especially true this time of year, with the feast day of Ireland’s patron saint, Saint Patrick, on March 17th. Let these artists and their music help fuel your Irish dreams.
The sound of the band Altan is rooted in the varied musics of Donegal, in Ireland’s far northwest, and it is on the heart of that they focus in their album The Poison Glen –Gleann Nimhe. They take the name of it from a beautiful place of legend and story in Donegal. They explore story and mystery through song and tune, and carry out the ideas in the album’s artwork as well. Highlights include the singing of Mairéad Ni Mhaonaigh on The Blackest Crow and Seolta Geala, a sparkling set of reels which begins with one called The New Rigged Ship, Ni Mhaonaigh’s fiddle leading the way,and a meditative closing tune written by Daithi Sproule, who plays guitar with the band, called The House on the Corner.
On her album Somewhere Along the Road, Cathie Ryan offers both traditional and contemporary songs, as well as ones she herself has written. She’s been honored for the quality of her singing, and for her teaching as well. Well deserved those honors are. Her gifts as a songwriter are as compelling, too. Highlights here include her song Carrick a Rede, a lively piece in which she takes a well known feature of the landscape on the north coast of Ireland to frame her ideas about the courage it takes to love, InMy Tribe, in which she traces connections of family and heritage across culture and time, and the quiet song of hope and renewal by Rick Kemp from which she takes the album’s title. If you are a regular reader of A Traveler’s Library, you’ll recall that some time back I introduced you to Ryan’s album The Farthest Wave. That’s well worth a revisit, or a first one, as well.
John Doyle is a creative and adventurous guitarist and singer who can often be found working with artists including Cathie Ryan, Joan Baez, Dirk Powell, Alison Brown, and others. He’s steeped in Irish tradition certainly, but for his album Shadow and Light, he decided to focus on his own songwriting. An unusual focus it is too: while the songs sound fresh and new, they also sound as though they could have come straight out of the tradition a century or more ago. Doyle is a fine singer and a gifted storyteller in song. Highlights include the story of an Irishman caught up in the American Civil War called Clear the Way and a gentle song written for his young daughter called Little Sparrow.
Altan, John Doyle, and Cathie Ryan are all on tour in this Irish season and in other seasons of the year. Take the chance to see them live, if you can. Listen to their music. Explore the depth and breadth of the music of Ireland they share with you.
Vera Marie says: Thank goodness for Kerry Dexter. We might have missed St. Patrick’s Day since we’re off on that Western Road Trip. But now we’ll don the green and listen to some new Irish music.