LIVE: Altan @ Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, 2/28/16
Photographs by Timothy Raab
With the spotlight focused on vocalist-fiddler Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh, the veteran Celtic band Altan took the stage at the acoustically delightful Troy Savings Bank Music Hall late last month, getting a jump on the annual parade of Irish music concerts that make up much of the calendar during March musical madness.
There were jigs, reels, ballads and more, all played with a delicate balance of enthusiasm and instrumental prowess. After nearly 30 years together, the band – featuring Ciaran Tourish (fiddle), Martin Tourish (accordion), Daithi Sproule (guitar) and Ciaran Curran (bouzouki) – played with effortless grace, dipping into the deep well of Celtic traditional music, as well as fresh, sparkling tunes from their new album, The Widening Gyre.
Excerpt from Michael Hochanadel’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Those melodies — some ancient, some crafted last year — mainly issued from the long throat of Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh; MM, hereafter. The frames around those melodies mattered just as much: plaintive or flying fiddles, fill-in-the-blanks accordion, acoustic guitar and bouzouki teaming up where bass lines would be in other bands. In this, Irish music is the polar opposite of bass-booming hip-hop, say; but in hands and voices as expert as Altan’s it was often just as exciting. Altan started where their new album, their umpteenth in 30 years, The Widening Gyre, also does: spunky, fleet reels. In the seamless ramble of ‘Maggie’s Pancakes/Piobaire an Cheide/The Friel Deal,’ Ciaran Tourish swapped his fiddle briefly for low whistle at the end. No piper appeared, but their next set closed with ‘King of the Pipers’ anyway. MM’s first big vocal followed, the folk-ballad ‘No Ash Will Burn,’ showing off her startling technique of following an ethereal falsetto passage with a full-voice verse ranging even higher. Then another set of reels: ‘Comb your Hair and Curl It/Gweebarra Bridge’ from 2002’s The Blue Idol in familiar slow/fast contrast.”