Two noteworthy changes to Solas as they appeared at World Café Live on St. Patrick’s Day.
First, vocalist Máiréad Phelan seems now more comfortably and confidently integrated into the band. Máiréad replaced Deirdre Scanlon last year. We first saw Máiréad at World Café not long after the release of the band’s latest, “For Love and Laughter.” She sang well, but her time on stage was limited to her vocal performance and she seemed, to me, a bit shy.
In her St. Pat’s performance, she seemed much more confident, and she spent more time on stage. When she wasn’t singing, she added piano accompaniment. Overall, a more complete performance. It’s easy to underestimate her vocal power, but it really came through in this show.
The second noteworthy change: box player Mick McAuley has lost his signature ponytail.
Other than that, it was just another Solas performance—an amazing display of musical virtuosity. If Solas ever has an “off” performance, I haven’t heard it. Whether roaring through a blast of reels or delivering a soulful rendition of the traditional “Mollai Na GCuach Ni Chuilleanain (Curly Haired Molly),” Solas—even with all the changes to the lineup over a decade—is still one of the most creative and dynamic Irish bands going.
In their most recent home town performance, Solas performed many tunes off the most recent CD, including Ricky Lee Jones’s “Sailor Song” and “Seven Curses” (with tight harmonies by McAuley and guitarist Eamon McElholm on the latter). McAuley also paid tribute to the late songwriter John Martyn with his moving rendition of “Spencer the Rover.”
Noting that “the banjo is an occasionally maligned instrument,” leader Seamus Egan went on to set things right with a blistering performance of “Vital Mental Medicine.” And the bow-shredding fiddler Winifred Horan, when she wasn’t setting new land speed records on assorted jigs and reels, offered more laid-back displays of her talent such as her lovely and sad “My Dream of You.” (“We’re not actually that depressed,” she insisted.)
Nor were we.