Published on March 10th, 2014 | by Jon Santiago0
St. Patty’s Day Teaser: Solas Charms the Music Hall
Solas w/ Banna de Dhá
Charleston Music Hall
It’s a nice long drive down to the Holy City from Philadelphia, home base for the Irish roots band Solas. And if you’re hoping to get the right mood for some pre-St. Patty’s Day revelry, it doesn’t hurt if Charleston greets you with Irish-style springtime weather: wet and drizzly and cold.
Outside temps notwithstanding, the crowd at Charleston Music Hall on Thursday night (March 6th) had a very warm welcome ready for the latest incarnation of the critically acclaimed Solas.
Over the years, Solas has proven to be very resilient and adaptable as they’ve weathered a series of personnel changes. The current lineup features core members (flute, tenor banjo, mandolin, whistles, guitars, bodhran) and Winifred Horan (violins, vocals), along with Mick McAuley (accordions, low whistle, concertina, vocals) and Eamon McElholm (guitars, keyboards, vocals). The band’s newest member, added just last year, is Dublin-native Noriana Kennedy on vocals and banjo.
Solas’ hour-long set drew a good many tunes from their most recent album Shamrock City, whose songs chronicle the early 20th century Irish immigrant experience in Butte, Montana. Band leader Egan’s great-great uncle Michael Conway was one of those immigrants headed to the Montana copper mines and boxing rings.
Why travel all the way to Montana? As Egan tells it, in those days the Irish were not welcome in many American destinations. “Irish Need Not Apply” was a sign commonly on display in shop windows and at factory gates. Butte became a notable exception to that trend. The advice to prospective immigrants: “Come directly to Butte. Don’t even stop in America.” Some of the “Shamrock City” cuts that made the set list included the sprightly “Lay Your Money Down,” a haunting performance of “Far Amerikay,” and the lovely “Am I Born to Die.”
Violinist Winifred Horne provided another stand out moment of the evening with her soulful version of “Niel Gow’s Lament for his Second Wife,” a familiar tune rendered with delicate and moving lyricism.
The duo Banna de Dhá — Tom Morley on fiddle and Hazel Ketchum (of the Hungry Monks) on guitar and vocals — opened the show with a crisp, self-assured forty minute set. Theirs is an intimate, immediately accessible take on the traditional roots sound. The reels, jigs, and ballads they played, set off by artfully simple arrangements, made their performance seem like you’d come in out of the chill night air only to discover a delightful ceilidh waiting for you in your own living room. A real treat.
Photos by Jon Santiago.
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