‘Shamrock City’ from Solas - powerful musicianship and expressive narratives(July 11, 2013)
The history of Ireland and its people breeds tales of emigration to escape injustice, famine and oppression. These are stories of people forced from their native land to search for a better life. Some did - many did not. However they wandered, the Irish founded traditions wherever their feet touched and reflected their experiences and heritage through stories and songs. ‘Shamrock City’ from Irish-American band Solas does the same through powerful musicianship and expressive narratives.
‘Shamrock City’ tells of Michael Conway who left Ireland for America to work in the mines of Butte, Montana, (named Shamrock City due to its droves of Irish immigrants) only to die at the hands of local police. More than a concept album, ‘Shamrock City’ is one man’s story, a true history and a testament to those men and women who fled struggle and deprivation, risked all, only to find life equally hard elsewhere.
On ‘Shamrock City’ there are tales of disillusionment and hope, prejudice and exploitation in a foreign land, a fate faced by so many who met mendacity, greed and intolerance with true and steadfast hearts. Preceded by a short intro-extract of ‘A Stór Mo Chroí’ from the Keane Sisters, a powerful Mick McAuley ‘leaving-home’ ballad ‘Far Amerikay’ begins the tale with its stirring vocal encapsulating a sense of loss and foreboding. A uniquely-Irish mixture of rebellion and fatalism pervades this album – the toughness of resistance in ‘Tell God and the Devil’, a heartrending edge through the softly despairing ‘Michael Conway’ and the gentle affection in ‘Arbor Day’ with its moving, perfectly-placed whistle. There’s finding solace in whiskey and women with ‘Lay Your Money Down’, the lamenting yet resilient waltz ‘Welcome to the Unknown’, the instrumental sparkle of ‘Girls on the Line’ and the buoyant step of ‘High Wide and Handsome’.
An observation to make you weep. A story made more powerful by truth. Without doubt Solas have ‘hit the spot’ with ‘Shamrock City’.
Solas are Seamus Egan (banjo, mandolin, nylon guitar, bouzouki, low whistles, snare drum, percussion) Winifred Hogan (fiddles) Mick McAuley (lead and harmony vocal, button accordion, guitar) Eamon McElholm (guitar, harmonium, electric bass, keyboards, piano accordion) and Niamh Varian-Barry (lead and harmony vocals, viola) also contributing to ‘Shamrock City’ are Rhiannon Giddens (lead and harmony vocals) Dick Gaughan and Aoife O’Donovan (lead vocals) Natalie Haas (cello) Dirk Powell (five-string banjo) Chico Huff (acoustic bass) Trevor Hutchinson (upright bass) John Anthony (drums, percussion) Mike ‘Slo-Mo’ Brenner (electric dobro) and The Allegheny Brass Band.
Reviewer: Tim Carroll