Solas at the Iron Horse Music Hall

Last Monday, Jennifer and I went to see Solas at the Iron Horse, so, in keeping with my plan to actually write about the concerts we go to, here’s my review of the show.

I bought my first Solas album, Sunny Spells & Scattered Showers, back in 1997, and after hearing it, quickly went out and bought their self-titled debut album as well. They were an absolutely amazing band, filled with top notch musicians.

I didn’t like their next few albums quite as much, and then, after Karan Casey (the original singer) and then Johnny Doyle (the original guitar player) left the band, I sort of lost my enthusiasm for them, as I didn’t think that the new singer, Deirdre Scanlan, or the newer guitar players were nearly as good as the originals had been.

I was fortunate enough to see the almost-original lineup (box player John Williams having been replaced for the tour by Mick McAuley) of Solas play at the Iron Horse, and they completely blew me away. They were just ridiculously good.

A few years later I saw one of the newer lineups of the band play at the University of Hartford, and I was more or less horrified by the addition of an electric bass player and a “percussionist” to the lineup. I thought the show was definitely sub-par, though I know that was partly because I was comparing it to that first Solas show I had seen, and partly because I tend to lean toward the “pure drop” side of things when it comes to Irish traditional music, and these guys were now playing what I might call dull Celtic-influenced folk-rock.

Then recently, last year I think it was, I heard that they’d trimmed their lineup down to five members again, so Jenn and I took a chance and went to see them when they played at the Iron Horse. It was definitely a better show than the one I’d seen at the University of Hartford, but it was still just a shadow of their old glory.

That brings us to this latest concert. Jenn and I headed up to the Iron Horse again, and once again Solas played a good, but not great, show. Having seen the current lineup twice now, I think I can pick out the reasons why I’m no longer as big a fan.

First, there’s the selection of material. They’re doing a lot more non-Irish sorts of folk songs, and I found several of them to be rather dull. This isn’t helped by the fact that I don’t find Deirdre Scanlan to be a particularly engaging vocalist, and her voice, while good, isn’t the amazing instrument that Karan Casey’s was.

Second, Seamus Egan has pretty much abandoned the flute and whistle for noodling around on various guitars and his banjo. Now, don’t get me wrong, he’s a good guitar player (and an excellent banjo player), but on the flute he’s absolutely brilliant, and I miss that. The band did a couple of sets of tunes at the end of the show that reminded me just how extraordinary a flute player he was, so it’s not that he’s lost his skills, he’s just chosen not to use them.

Third, the current guitar player, Eamon McElholm, just bores the heck out of me. Part of this may be because he’s relegated to second-string when Seamus picks up the guitar, but he’s also just not a particularly dynamic player (or singer).

Having said all of that, while this is no longer a band I’d really recommend to people I know, it was a good show, and a fun way to spend an evening, so I might even go to see them again someday.

One Response to “Solas at the Iron Horse Music Hall”

  1. Sol Says:

    Yeah, we pretty much gave up on Solas years ago. Nice people, but the bland songs really drag down the occasional great blast of tunes.

    On the other hand, we get to spend next week at a “Celtic college”/festival that John Doyle is teaching at….