Picks and Pans Review: Blackwater

UPDATED 07/15/1996 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 07/15/1996 at 01:00 AM EDT


Like the morning mist rising from County Donegal's Loch Altan, the music played by the band that bears its name reflects a beauty steeped in Irish mysticism. The band's first album on a major label is a heartfelt collection of stirring jigs, reels and hornpipes and of soulful folk ballads. It is sure to strengthen its reputation as one of the finest traditional bands in Ireland and solidify its growing following in the U.S.

It's also Altan's first album since co-founder and flute player Frankie Kennedy died of cancer in 1994. His wife and cofounder Mairéad Ni Mhaonaigh (Ma-RAID Nee WEE-nee) plays lead fiddle on "A Tune for Frankie," a mournful but uplifting tribute to her husband. Ni Mhaonaigh grew up in stark and beautiful Donegal and sings ballads in both her native Gaelic (translations are provided) and English with such an angelic voice that the devilish twists in the songs take you by surprise. In "Blackwaterside," a traditional song written from a woman's perspective (a rarity), a maiden done wrong declares that she will only marry "When fishes can fly/ And the seas run dry."

Despite the loss of Kennedy, the group's inherent good spirits clearly remain. The melodic interplay of Ni Mhaonaigh's fiery fiddle with that of fellow fiddler Ciaran Tourish and accordionist Dermot Byrne drives "Johnny Boyle's" and "Dogs Among the Bushes" with such gusto that it's nearly impossible to keep from dancing. (Virgin)

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