After nearly 35 years together—the longest running lineup of founding members in Irish music—the members of Altan were ready to flex their musical boundaries when they began work on their newest album, The Widening Gyre.
With a new band member, Martin Tourish on accordion, and the help of many good friends in the studio, Altan’s new album fuses the traditional Irish music that they are known for, namely Donegal fiddling and Gaelic singing traditions, with American roots music, particularly that of the Appalachian bluegrass fiddle.
Recording in Nashville for only the second time and the first time for a full album, the band was able to gather many of the roots musicians they’ve met over their thirty years together, including Sam Bush, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Jerry Douglas, Tim O’Brien, Eddi Reader, Bryan Sutton, and Compass co-founder Alison Brown.
The bluegrass presence shows itself clearly on “Buffalo Gals” and “Thomasino (Thomas Tourish’s Tune),” a lively fiddle song written by Altan’s own Ciaran Tourish. Lead vocalist Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh’s crystalline voice unlock the Celtic undertones of the mournful waltz “No Ash Will Burn” from the legendary Nashville songwriter Walt Aldridge, and Tim O’Brien duets on “The House Carpenter (Gypsy Davy),” a track which spotlights the shared musical roots of Irish and Appalachian music with references to both of these historical songs.
The Widening Gyre straddles time as it manages to remind listeners of the ancient bond between Irish and Appalachian music while at the same time breaking new ground through collaborations between masters of American roots music and Celtic music.
The Widening Gyre is a compelling development in Altan’s story proving that they are still growing as artists, even after so many years together.
“One of the most touching things you’ll hear this year.” The Arts Desk