Runa ttow front page artwork

Runa’s album is great for the season

"The Tide of Winter" has a very high degree of variety making it an easy listener.

By Daniel Neely

Last weekend I had a read through “Navigating the Traditional Arts Sector in Ireland,” a newly released report about traditional music in Ireland by concertina player Jack Talty. It’s a long and deeply researched document commissioned by Trad Ireland / Traid Éireann (an organization founded by Oisín Mac Diarmada and Tristan Rosenstock “to promote the traditional arts throughout the island of Ireland and support practitioners through advocacy and professional development opportunities”) that traditional artists should be aware of.

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The wide ranging report reveals the struggles and frustrations that traditional artists and stakeholders face in building their careers. The work itself is divided into three sections, one that looks at the resources available to traditional artists, one that examines the challenges artists typically encounter, and a final section that offers a number of recommendations for moving forward that suggest ways to maximize opportunity and safeguard livelihoods.

With it, Talty has done yeoman’s work. With such a detailed report in hand, it should make progressive action for traditional music and artists more possible. At the very least, it opens up discussion in a number of areas – such as grant funding, contracts, unionization, mentorship, visas, sexual harassment & safety, audience development, public engagement, and advocacy – that will almost certainly lead to positive change. This isn’t a report that everyone will need to read, but traditional music lovers should be aware of its existence in the hopes that it will reach the people who do. To learn more and to read the report, visit trad-ireland.com.

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On a far lighter and more festive note, “The Tide of Winter,” a new album by Celtic-American roots group Runa in the media player this week! Formed in 2019, Runa plays Irish and Scottish music and infuses them with elements of jazz, bluegrass, flamenco, and blues. Here, they’ve given fans a high-concept album for the season that features fine musicianship, tasteful execution, and stylish presentation. Listeners looking for some new Christmas music to enjoy need look no further!

https://youtu.be/QW22OENmX40

Runa consists of Shannon Lambert-Ryan (vocals, bodhrán, harp), Fionán de Barra (guitars), Chery Prashker (percussion), Caleb Edwards (mandolins, banjo) and Jake James (fiddle), a group of excellent musicians who appear to have great synergy and a common vision for the band’s sound. This vision has the dazzling de Barra and Prashker’s great rapport at its center, with Edwards and James alongside, providing the extra lift that gives their work added purpose.

However, I think the element that ultimately defines Runa’s sound is Lambert-Ryan’s voice, which is strong and distinctive. Tracks like “Brightest and Best / Gaudete / Noel Nouvelet,” “Christ Child's Lullaby / Dún Do Shúil,” and “In the Bleak Midwinter” are energized by the direction she gives them. Her delivery helps make the songs sound appropriately seasonal. I particularly like how she delivers “The Wexford Carol (Enniscorthy Carol)” – it’s sensitive and well rendered.

Runa.

The album features a single instrumental track –“Instrumental Medley” – on which James and Edwards really stand out. It’s an “epic set of Christmas tunes” (as the liner notes explain) on which each melody player trades scintillating instrumental leads with the other, using the opportunities to ramp up the track’s intensity. It’s quite a showcase and proof of the band’s strong musicianship.

Ultimately, “The Tide of Winter” is a fun, light album that is great for the season. Brilliant production and musicianship, and a very involved approach to arrangement gives this album a very high degree of variety (both within individual tunes and between tracks) making it an easy listener. It’d make a terrific soundtrack for a holiday party. It’s really a shame 2020 has turned out the way that it has, because I suspect the “The Tide of Winter” live show also would have been excellent. Again, if you’re looking for a holiday album to get you into the Christmas season, check this one out. Visit runamusic.com for more.