Culann's Hounds was named after Cúchulainn,
a mythical warrior found in Irish folklore who was believed to be
invincible in battle. As a child he killed a ferocious guard dog in
self defense, and to repay its owner, swore to take the dog's place
until another could be raised. The Hounds have no problem living up
to their name with their second release, Year Of The Dog. These
guys seem invincible with their traditional roots mixed with modern
techniques and a bit of folk. The band has four permanent members,
Steve Gardner on fiddle, Mike Kelleher on guitar, Scott
Marshall on bodhrán and percussion, and Renée
de la Prade on button accordion. To accompany the band comes a
great lineup of well known talent including John Popper of
Blues Traveler, with his harmonica and Conall O'Raghallaigh
who is one of the best Uilleann pipers that I've heard outside the
emerald isle. Ben Bernstein, of New Monsoon, joins them
on bass and Dierdre Corrigan plays the traditional Irish flute.
Guest appearances also include Andrew MacNamara from Tulla,
East Clare playing the button accordion for which he is so well known
and Susan McKeown from Chanting House on backup vocals
on "The Foggy Dew" and "Wild Mountain Thyme".
With the kind of talent involved in the creation of the album, there's
no question this is one of the premiere up-and-coming trad-irish bands
in the US. They are not your typical traditional band like Planxty,
The Dubliners, or The Bothy Band, but they take after
the younger incarnations of those legendary acts such as Solas
and Lunasa, to name a couple. The Hounds have shown that they
are quite capable of taking traditional tunes and spicing them up
with the harmonica, and allowing their own influence to infuse the
music with originality and energy.
"Twin Peaks" opens the album with an energetic track including
some phenomenal solos by John Popper. I will say it threw me for a
curve the first time I heard harmonica in a traditional Irish setting,
but it's starting to grow on me. This is followed up by "Dirty
Old Town", which was written by Ewan MacColl but made
famous by the likes of The Dubliners and The Pogues. They start
off with the hauntingly beautiful sound of the Irish flute which segues
into the main chorus. The vocalist, Steve Gardner, manages to create
a mixture between Shane McGowan, the drunken lyrical genius,
and maybe Patrick Murphy of Gaelic Storm. All in all,
it's a pretty decent cover of the classic. "Wild Mountain Thyme"
is probably one of the best tracks on this album where the vocalists
really get to show off their talent. In this track there are rich
melodies and ample harmonies intertwined by Steve Gardner and guest
vocalist Susan McKeown. There are many instrumental pieces including
"The Skylark", "Homeward Bound", "Eire"
which incidentally is played entirely on the uilleann pipes, "The
Carlow Set", and "The Tennessee Waltz" which shows
that the Hounds are not afraid to play straight traditional tunes
that even The Chieftains could be proud of. Others like "Pelican
Inn", "Rainy Day", and even "Helvic Head"
which show how skilled they are at mixing traditional elements with
modern materials similar to Solas or Lunasa. I could write a paragraph
on each track, but that would take valuable time away from you getting
out and buying this album!
This is one of the few traditional Irish groups in the US that
I would actually recommend checking out. They are without doubt
one of the rising young stars of the genre and I, for one, am excitedly
biting my fingernails in anticipation of future releases by the
1. Twin Peaks
2. Dirty Old Town
3. Rainy Day
4. The Foggy Dew
5. The Skylark
6. Pelican Inn
7. Wild Mountain Thyme
8. Homeward Bound
10. The Carlow Set
11. The Tennessee Waltz
12. Helvic Head
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