PHOTO: JOHN D. KELLY
Traditional Music / By Daniel Neely
It seems like Irish music is full of supergroups these days, but there are few that have the kind of track record Danú has to back up the claim. The group has just released “Ten Thousand Miles,” its ninth album, and it’s spectacular. Full of lovely vocal tracks and full-bore instrumentals, it’s an album that fans of traditional music will wholeheartedly enjoy.
Danú has indeed been one of the truly elite bands since its formation in 1995, when it assembled for the Lorient Inter-Celtic Festival in Brittany, France. Like many, it has been through several personnel changes over the years that have influenced the band’s sound, but the consistency with which it’s been able to boast of an incredibly high-powered lineup is truly something. It shows in each of their eight previous albums, all of which received wide critical acclaim, but also in the awards the band has received from outfits like Irish Music Magazine and the BBC Radio 2.
Danú’s current lineup is stellar and includes a mix of newer and older faces, including founding member button accordionist Benny McCarthy; singer and whistle player Nell Ní Chróinín (who has ably taken over where Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh left off); fiddle player Oisin McAuley; bouzouki player Eamon Doorley (fret not, the broken bouzouki that you may heard about on Facebook that threatened to scuttle their tour has been fixed); flute, whistle and uilleann pipe player Ivan Goff; and guitarist Tony Byrne. They’re joined a trio of special guest bodhrán players, including band founder Donnachadh Gough, Amy Richter (áthas), and Billy Sutton (The Fables, Cordeen).
The band asserts itself from the start. The album opens with “Master McGrath,” a song about an eponymous greyhound that was the first to win the Waterloo Cup on three occasions. (While perhaps unknown today, the Waterloo Cup was, of course, the toast of the 19th century’s hare coursing community.) The band’s given it a brooding arrangement, stabilized by Goff’s uilleann drone and then lifted by McCarthy’s box and McAuley’s fiddle. While the song is perhaps reminiscent in some ways of Irvine and Brady’s “Plains of Kildare” in tone, the vision and execution is all Danú.
Another lovely track “Fiach An Mhadra Rua” is a bouncy, upbeat song about the adventures of a fox hunt. The track’s jaunty bounce fits the song’s story and the arrangement leaves enough space for each player’s contribution to be heard. “The Foggy Dew,” the album’s final track, is a powerful one as well. It features a stunning string and pipes arrangement and is a great way to close the disc.
The album’s most ambitious and arguably its finest song is “Ten Thousand Miles,” which the group took from Nic Jones’s 1977 recording “The Noah’s Ark Trap.” Danú has given it a startling transformation. Ní Chróinín’s voice is piercing and communicates the song’s meaning wonderfully, but it sits perfectly over the quite beautiful instrumental backing led by McAuley’s string playing, which takes on a near orchestral feel and becomes especially compelling towards the end where it swells in volume and harmony. Just a wonderful track.
The album includes lots of great tunes, too, but a few instrumental tracks stand out, including the “The Poor Mans Fortune / The Long Strand / Reel Gan Ainm.” There, the driving pulse of Byrne’s guitar supports strong melody playing and makes for a stirring set. On “The Connemara Hornpipe / The Leverette,” Goff’s flute and McCarthy’s box take the lead and articulate nicely together well, but the sound swells on the tune’s second pass-through with the entrance of McAuley’s fiddle – it matches the vibe perfectly. I also really dig “She Hasn’t The Thing She Thought She Had / Denis Murphy’s / Abbey’s Green Isle,” a jig set that initially features some great whistle and box playing and goes on to add dynamic fiddle and flute to complement it. Lovely stuff.
Congratulations to Danú! “Ten Thousand Miles” is an excellent, finely hewn album that delivers on every track. The music is tight and highly polished from top to bottom, and the arrangements are brilliantly done. I should add that I caught the group live in New York City over Patrick’s Week and they were great – the band both really click in person and do great justice to the album’s arrangements. Danú’s fans won’t be surprised by any of this, of course, but this is an album that’ll draw in listeners of all stripes and reminds folks what being elite is all about. Learn more at www.danu.net.