Had Winifred Horan and Seamus Egan of the Irish-American band Solas decided in the mid-’90s to start a family instead of a band, their progeny would now be deep in the throes of adolescence. Today, the fruit of their union is, rather, a rich sound that is ripe beyond its 15 years. Egan, who plays guitar, banjo, mandolin, flute, whistles and the bodhran in the transnational band, describes Solas as “fundamentally a traditional Irish band that takes the traditional material and stretches it a bit and then puts it back together.”
Solas’ soulful performances are garnished with all the strings and whistles crucial to the traditional Celtic sound. On their most recent album, The Turning Tide, melodic ballads are scattered among classically upbeat Irish songs, creating an album with a tight sound on which strings and percussion build a solid backdrop for vocalist Mairead Phelan’s otherworldly voice.
The band specializes in story songs, both Irish and American, an apt reflection of the group’s composition. While three of its members live in Ireland, the other two are based in the United States. Though Solas plays mostly traditional Irish songs, any song that tells a story is fertile musical ground; The Turning Tide includes masterful renditions of Bruce Springsteen’s “Ghost of Tom Joad” and Richard Thompson’s “The Poor Ditching Boy.” Banjo adds a touch of Appalachia to the swooping strings and captivating Celtic rhythms to create a bluegrass hybrid of classical Irish music that tells stories of life and love as timeless as that of the bands’ forebears.
For Solas, performing is usually the best part the day, when all the hard work comes together and the musicians get to share it with their audience. Egan offers, “It’s just great to have the opportunity and get up on stage and play in front of people who’ve come and made the effort to hear you. Particularly in this economy, it means something. It’s important to us.”
With 10 albums and numerous tours under its belt, Solas makes a unique family. Its members, in addition to Egan, are fiddler Horan; vocalist Phelan; Mick McAuley, who plays accordion, guitar and vocals; and Eamon McElholm, who plays guitar, piano and vocals.
The quintet is hard at work on pre-production on projects to be released early next year and is currently on a U.S.-wide tour that stops in Santa Cruz next week.
Wednesday, Feb. 23, 7:30pm
Kuumbwa, 320 Cedar St., Santa Cruz
$20 at More Music or www.kuumbwajazz.org