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Altan


Country of origin:

Ireland

Type of music generally:

Traditional Irish folk

Status:

Most recent release, The Widening Gyre (2015)

See also:

The Altan page

Ceolas' Altan page

Frankie Kennedy and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh also did two previous duo album under their own names.

Comparisons:

Less New Age-y than Clannad, rather like the Irish equivalent of early Capercaillie (back when they were traditional rather than pop)

Covers/own material:

Mostly traditional material

General comments:

They are a traditional Irish band, with lots of reels, jigs, and hornpipes (that is, Irish instrumentals of varying speeds) and the occasional traditional song. I love the twin fiddles that often take the lead in the music, which also has flute, bouzouki, and accordion. I don't have all the Altan discs, but I have a bunch, and enjoy them all. I believe the later ones are stronger than the earlier ones. (neal)

Comments about live performance:

Altan was absolutely amazing! There's a reason so many fans of Irish traditional music consider Altan to be the greatest (modern) band in the genre...they are absolutely brilliant. I didn't see them perform live for the first time until after Frankie Kennedy had passed away, and I find it hard to actually imagine how glorious their live shows must have been when he was with them when I see how amazing they are these days. I'm a big fan of the flute and whistle in Irish trad, so the fact that I can be so utterly blown away by a band that doesn't have a flute player is always a surprise to me.
     Mairéad's voice and fiddle playing were both spectacular, and when she and Ciaran Tourish were blazing away together on their fiddles in the classic Donegal style it was just breathtaking. The set was a fairly even split between songs and tunes, and though on their more recent cds I've preferred the tunes over the songs I still thought Mairéad did a spectacular job. I think her voice just sounds better live than it does recorded.
     Anyway, if you're a fan of Irish trad, or just a dabbler on the edges of the whole "celtic" genre, I strongly urge you to catch Altan when they come to your town. You won't be disappointed. (mcurry@io.com, 5/98)

I second the motion! I had the opportunity to see them last spring and it was an absolutely fantabulous show! I was mesmerized by their talent and brilliant live performance. I didn't want the show to ever end! (samsamiam@juno.com)

I saw Altan in a middle-school auditorium. It was a very good show—two sets of rollicking Irish music by one of the best bands in the business. There's not much more to say, save that it was every bit as good as I've come to expect from them. (4/01, meth@smoe.org)

Recommended first album:

Any

Recordings:


Horse With a Heart

Release info:

1989—Green Linnet Records—GLCD 1095

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Mairéad ní Mhaonaigh—fiddle and vocals
Frankie Kennedy—flute
Paul O'Shaughnessy—fiddle
Ciaran Curran—bouzouki
Mark Kelly—guitar

Guest artists:

Phil Cunningham—keyboards, whistle
Colm Murphy—bodhrán
Marie Askin—piano (2)
Dónal Lunny—bass bodhrán (7)
Steve White—percussion (7)

Produced by:

Phil Cunningham

Comments:

A lovely, traditional album with a good blend of sad songs and upbeat, dance tunes. (JoAnn Whetsell)

The Red Crow

Release info:

1990—Green Linnet (U.S.)—GLCD 1109

Availability:

Wide in the U.S.

Ecto priority:

Recommended for lovers of acoustic Celtic folk

Group members:

Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh—fiddle, vocals
Frankie Kennedy—flute, whistles, backing vocals
Paul O'Shaughnessy—fiddle
Mark Kelly—guitar, backing vocals
Ciaran Curran—bouzouki, guitar-bouzouki

Guest artists:

Johnny "Ringo" McDonagh—bodhrán, bones
Marie Askin—piano
Dermot Byrne—accordion
Séamus Quinn—piano
Garvan Gallagher—double bass, bowed double bass
Dónal Lunny—bodhrán
Máire Bhreathnach—keyboards
Niall Toner—mandolin
P.J. Curtis—high strung guitar

Produced by:

P.J. Curtis

Comments:

Album is about 40/60 songs/tunes. Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh has a stunning, clear voice. The fiddle playing is great, but I bought this because I love Mairéad's voice. The songs have emotion without being sappy. (Neile)

Harvest Storm

Release info:

1992—Green Linnet Records (U.S.)—GLCD 1117

Availability:

Wide in U.S.

Ecto priority:

Recommended for lovers of Celtic folk

Group members:

Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh—fiddle, vocals
Frankie Kennedy—flutes, whistles, backing vocals
Paul O'Shaughnessy—fiddle
Ciaran Tourish—fiddle, whistle, backing vocals
Mark Kelly—guitar, backing vocals
Ciaran Curran—bouzouki, guitar-bouzouki

Guest artists:

Dáithí Sproule—guitar
Tommy Hayes—bodhrán, bass bodhrán, percussion, Jew's harp
Dónal Lunny—keyboards, bass bodhrán
Liam Ó Maonlaí—didgeridoo
Frieda Gray—dancing

Produced by:

P.J. Curtis

Comments:

For my tastes this is even better than The Red Crow because there seem to be more songs. Mairéad's vocals are lovely. (Neile)

Island Angel

Release info:

1993—Green Linnet Records (U.S.)—GLCD 1137

Availability:

Wide in U.S.

Ecto priority:

Recommended for lovers of Celtic folk

Group members:

Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh—vocals, fiddle
Frankie Kennedy—flute, low whistles, backing vocals
Mark Kelly—guitars, backing vocals
Ciaran Curran—bouzouki, guitar-bouzouki
Ciaran Tourish—fiddle, whistle, backing vocals
Dáithi Sproule—guitar, backing vocals

Guest artists:

Dermot Byrne—accordion
Dónal Lunny—bodhrán, keyboards, bouzouki
Tommy Hayes—percussion
Steve Cooney—fretless bass
Neil Martin—cello
Anna Ní Mhaonaigh—backing vocals

Produced by:

Brian Masterson and Altan

Comments:

This album has some of the best Irish fiddle tunes I've heard in a long time, with nice arrangements and virtuosic performances. A couple of well-sung songs as well (and this from a man who doesn't like most Irish songs). (relph@presto.ig.com)

Blackwater

Release info:

1997

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended for lovers of Celtic folk

Comments:

The first album without Frankie Kennedy, and the first with Dermot Byrne as a full-time member of the band. The result is different from past efforts, but still wonderful. (mcurry@io.com)

If you enjoy Celtic music, especially with female vocals, you will enjoy this disc. (Matt.Bittner)


The Best of Altan

Release info:

1997—Green Linnet Records—GLCD 1177-1

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Mairéad Ní Mhaonaighh—vocals, fiddle
Frankie Kennedy—flute, whistles, backing vocals
Ciarán Curran—bouzouki, bouzouki-guitar, bouzarre, mandolin, backing vocals
Mark Kelly—guitar, high strung guitar, backing vocals
Dónal Lunny—bass, keyboards, bodhrán
Paul O'Shaughnessy—fiddle
Ciarán Tourish—fiddle, whistle, backing vocals
Dáithí Sproule—guitar, backing vocals

Guest artists:

Phil Cunningham—keyboards, whistle
Colm Murphy—bodhrán
Steve White—percussion
Tommy Hayes—bodhrán, bass bodhrán, percussion, Jew's harp, shaker
Garvan Gallagher—double bass (2) Dermot Byrne—accordion (1, 3, 7)
Séamus Quinn—piano (3)
Marie Askin—piano (6) Liam Ó Maonlai—didgeridoo (10) Steve Cooney—fretless bass (11, 14)
Anna Ní Mhaonaigh—backing vocals (14)

Produced by:

Dónal Lunny, Phil Cunningham, P.J. Curtis, Brian Masterson, and Altan

Comments:

This 2-disc retrospective of the band's first 10 years showcases the traditional side of Altan's music, both in the studio and live. A good place to start for people unfamiliar with their music, and a nice addition for fans. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Runaway Sunday

Release info:

1997—Virgin Records—7243 8 44559 2 7

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh—vocals, fiddle
Dermot Byrne—accordion, melodeon
Ciaran Tourish—fiddle, whistle, backing vocals
Ciaran Curran—bouzouki, bouzarre, mandolin, backing vocals
Mark Kelly—guitar, backing vocals
Dáithí Sproule—guitar, backing vocals

Guest artists:

Stephen Cooney—fretless bass, didgereedoo
Jerry Douglas—dobro
Dónal Lunny—keyboards, bodhrán
Alison Krauss—backing vocals
Pat Crowley—piano
Jimmy Higgins—percussion
Matt Molloy—flute
Neil Martin—cello, keyboards

Produced by:

Altan and Alastair McMillan

Comments:

Lively and energetic. More traditional and instrumentals than on their later albums. One of my favorites of Altan's. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Another Sky

Release info:

2000—Narada World (Virgin)—72438-48838-2-9

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh—fiddle, vocals
Ciaran Tourish—fiddle, whistle, backing vocals
Dermot Byrne—accordion
Ciaran Curran—bouzouki
Mark Kelly—guitar, backing vocals
Dáithí Sproule—guitar, backing vocals

Guest artists:

Steve Cooney—bass, nylon string guitar
Jimmy Higgins—bodhrán
Mick Kinsella—harmonica
Dónal Lunny—keyboards
Alan Smale, Niamh Nelson, Gillian Williams, Bill Butt—strings
Fiachra Trench—string arrangement
Jerry Douglas—dobro
James "Hutch" Hutchinson—bass
Bonnie Raitt—slide guitar
Neil Martin—cello, keyboards
Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill—piano
Mick O'Brien—uilleann pipes

Produced by:

Altan

Comments:

Ballad-heavy, so it's slower and more sedate than some of their other albums, but still lovely. (JoAnn Whetsell)

The Blue Idol

Release info:

2002—Narada World—72438-11955-2-9

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Guest artists:

Jim Higgins—bodhrán
Dónal Lunny—bouzouki, keyboards, bodhrán
Paul Brady—vocals (1), backing vocals (7)
James Blennerhassett—bass
Liam O'Flynn—uilleann pipes
Dolly Parton—vocals (4)
Harry Bradley—flute
Anna Ní Mhaonaigh—vocals (7) Steve Cooney—bass
Richie Buckley—saxophone Neil Martin—cello

Produced by:

Altan

Comments:

Another great album. Half the album is instrumentals, mostly upbeat and energetic. The other half consists of tuneful ballads, 3 in English, 3 in Irish. (JoAnn Whetsell)

The Best of Altan: The Songs

Release info:

2003—Narada, World (VIrgin)

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for Altan fans or those who like traditional Irish songs

Group members:

Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh—fiddle, vocals
Ciaran Tourish—fiddle, whistle, backing vocals
Dermot Byrne—accordion
Ciaran Curran—bouzouki
Mark Kelly—guitar, backing vocals
Dáithí Sproule—guitar, backing vocals

Guest artists:

Jerry Douglas—dobro (1)
James "Hutch" Huchisnson—bass (1)
Steve Cooney—bass (2, 8)
Jim Higgins—bodhrán (2, 8)
Mick Kinsella—harmonica (2)
Anna Ni Mhaonaigh—vocals (8)
Paul Brady—backing vocals (8)
Ricihe Buckley—saxophone (8)
Donal Luunney—bouzouki (9)
Dolly Parton—vocals (9)
Alan Smale, Niamh Nelson, Gilliam Williams, Bill Butt—string quartet (12)
Fiachra Trench—string arrangement (12)

Produced by:

Rich Denhart—executive producer

Comments:

A terrific collection if you especially like Altan's songs or prefer traditional songs to the usual mix of songs and tunes. These are drawn from their later albums, Blackwater (1996), Runaway Sunday (1997), Another Sky (2000), and The Blue Idol (2002). (Neile)

Local Ground

Release info:

2005—Narada—72438-75927-2-8

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh—fiddle, vocals
Ciaran Tourish—fiddle, whistle, vocals
Mark Kelly—guitar, bouzouki, vocals
Ciaran Curran—bouzouki, mandolin
Dermot Byrne—accordion
Dáithí Sproule—guitar, vocals

Guest artists:

Dónal Lunny—guitar
Jim Higgins—percussion, bodhrán
Graham Henderson—keyboards
Carlos Núñez—whistles and gaita
Stephen Cooney—bass
Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill—piano

Produced by:

Altan

Comments:

Local Ground doesn't break any new ground, but it's an awfully nice place to spend time. It's a mostly upbeat, very spirited collection of songs that moves seamlessly from song to song, blending instrumentals and vocal tracks. The band is equally good at both. Altan manages to make traditional music non-traditional. They sound contemporary without adding pop inflections to the music. Highly recommended for all fans of Celtic sounds, traditional or modern. (JoAnn Whetsell)


Thanks to JoAnn Whetsell for work on this entry.

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Entry last updated 2015-04-19 21:11:28.
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