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ALTAN - "Another Sky" - Virgin CDV3001
I came to review this CD shortly after seeing 'The String Sisters' concert at Celtic Connections. During the concert Mairead chose to sing a song in one of her main focus spots. This to me was an inspired move providing a highlight - one of many I must say - of the concert. The surprise in this album is the number of songs. The Altan formula used to be their trademark instrumental sets interspersed with songs from Mairead.

On 'Another Sky' the formula is turned on its head. Of the first eleven tracks there are eight songs interspersed with three instrumental sets played in classic Altan mould. The album is then brought to a close with two slower tunes, 'The Ootpik Waltz and a new composition by Mark Kelly, 'The Waves of Gola'. The instrumental sets have a slightly softer edge than normal, the bouzouki is less evident than before and there are fewer of the really incisive instrumental breaks that normally burst into the group instrumental sets to give regular injections of fire. The change may well result in them reaching a wider audience. On first hearings I was waiting for the full range of instrumental sets I have come to expect from Altan but on repeated listening the balance of the album became more and more appealing.

Of the eight songs, five are in English and include versions of 'Green Grow the Rushes' - Dougie MacLean's influence is quite plain on this one - 'Ten Thousand Miles' no doubt inspired by Nic Jones, and a version of Dylan's 'Girl from The North Country'.

If there is any weakness then I would say that it is in the choice of song. 'Girl from The North Country' doesn't show off Mairead's voice at its best and 'Island Girl' doesn't strike me as a particularly strong song although it has an attractive tune that grows on you with each hearing. But these criticisms should be taken in the context of the expectation that comes with any Altan album. They are still the cream of the crop.

Pete Heywood

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This album was reviewed in Issue 37 of The Living Tradition magazine.