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Culann's Hounds
Year Of The Dog

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 Hounds.

-Liger Woods

Track List:
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
9. Eire
10. The Carlow Set
11. The Tennessee Waltz
12. Helvic Head

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