News from big names in traditional music

 This week we’ve got some big news from some of the biggest names in traditional music, just in time for St. Patrick’s Day.  It’s been a busy season but as you might expect some spectacular things have come of it – as they do every year!

 To start: the globe-trekking, trend setting band Lúnasa is about to give “Live in Kyoto,” its latest recording, a wide release.  Recorded at the Taku Taku club in Kyoto, Japan in December 2023, it’s only been available at the band’s recent gigs (and they’re on the road until the end of the month), however it can be preordered now through their website,  I’ve not yet heard it but I eagerly look forward – Lúnasa is one of the best bands going and new music from the band is always cause for celebration. 

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 In addition: a little while back, Benny McCarthy, box player and leader of a similarly outstanding band Danú (, sent me “Atlantic Sounds,” the new release from his side project “Miscellany of Folk.”  Besides McCarthy, the band has Billy Sutton (fiddle, bodhrán, mandolin & vocals) and Eddie Costello (lead vocals & guitar), which makes for an interesting mix, as it takes a real rootedness in Irish music (McCarthy and Costello) and combines it with a strong Newfoundland influence (Sutton).  The results are superb.

 The music is very high energy, which is what you would expect from musicians of their caliber.  But in addition to this trio the album includes some eye-drawing guests, including Paddy Keenan (low whistle), Bobby Gardiner (vocals & lilting), Conal Ó’Gráda (flute), Theresa O’Grady (banjo), Michelle Brophy (flute) and Sandy Morris (lap steel).  These musicians are used sparingly and in different ways, but each enhances what is already high quality music.

 The album includes a brilliant array of songs, the most compelling of which is likely “Deckhand on a Trawler,” written by Martyn Travis, a fisherman from County Waterford.  The arrangement is well done and projects the hardness of that profession’s labor.  Another of the album’s top song picks is “When the Moon is Full,” a composition of the great Robbie O’Connell.  It’s an intense, driving, well-crafted track on which Keenan’s whistle helps set the mood.

 The several instrumentals here are similarly well done.  I love “Harry Eveleigh’s / …” which is a lovely set of Newfoundland tunes that helps give this album its superb energy.  It pairs nicely with “Coiscéim na Sí / …,” a couple of jigs on which Ó’Gráda joins.  I especially love Gardiner’s guest spot at the end of “John Walsh’s / ….”  His lilting give this one a rewarding elegance and the lyrics he sings afterward, written by his wife Anne, are excellent.

 “Atlantic Sounds” is a well done album that’s fairly packed with outstanding music.  A top choice for your St Patrick’s Day enjoyment!  Learn more at

 And finally: after 37 years, supergroup Altan has done it again with “Donegal,” it’s recently released 14th studio album!  Altan has a long and distinguished track record, that has included critical acclaim, all sorts of awards and accolades, and collaborations with artists such as Dolly Parton, Enya, The Chieftains, Bonnie Raitt, and Alison Krauss.

 Although the group’s membership has shifted over the years, the current iteration, which comprises Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh (fiddle, vocals), Clare Friel (fiddle, vocals), Martin Tourish (accordion), Dáithí Sproule (guitar), Mark Kelly (guitar, harmony vocals) and Ciarán Curran (bouzouki, mandolin), is a mix of top tier players and legends in the field.  Musically, I’m not sure the group has ever been stronger.

 The album includes some gorgeous songs (most of which are sung as Gaeilge), but the standouts for me are “Liostáil mé le Sáirsint” and “Gabhaim Molta Bríde,” both of which are arresting.  The former has a graceful arrangement in which Ní Mhaonaigh’s gorgeous singing finds a welcome home.  The latter is a different sort of song – plaintive, exquisite, and highly emotive in a way that many will find utterly moving.  “Faoiseamh a Gheobhadsa” is enchanting as well.  It’s a Zöe Conway composition on which Friel shines, the arrangement starts small and develops into a series of fascinating “wall of sound” moments that attract the ear.

 The instrumental tracks are just as engaging.  The album starts with “The Yellow Tinker,” a funky, diffuse take on a great reel that sets an auspicious tone for what’s to come (it gives some stylistic carryover to “Liostáil,” which follows in the track order) and suggests that the album offers a variety of stylistic takes.  Later on we get one in “Port Árainn Mhór/ …,” a gorgeous set of fiddle-forward jigs set in an attractive and bold arrangement.  It’s lovely on its own, but it’s enhanced by “The Baoithín House Selection,” the track that follows, which brings a different mood that provides gorgeous stylistic contrast.  The arrangement is marvelous, as is the playing, and both give the album a lift and character fans of the band will enjoy.

 If you’re looking for great traditional music with the staying power to endure March madness, you can’t go wrong with “Donegal” from Altan, it’s a stunner.  Essential listening for fans of traditional music, visit for more.