Borrowing its title from the opening line of the WB Yeats poem The Second Coming, ‘The Widening Gyre’ finds Co. Donegal based trad/folk legends Altan in fresh form, rejuvenated after a trip to Nashville, Tennessee; where the album was recorded. While firmly rooted in Celtic music, the group incorporate elements of Appalachian and bluegrass music to their sound on this their twelfth studio album, inviting some musical friends they’ve made on their travels.
We’re treated to Altan’s musical vision early on. Second track No Ash Will Burn, penned by one Walt Aldridge features the Southern flavoured fiddle and vocal of Bruce Molsky, while the album’s third track is a medley of bluegrass standard Buffalo Gals, and traditional Irish Leather Britches and Leslie’s Reel featuring fiddlers Darol Anger, Todd Philips and the intricate banjo stylings of Alison Brown, each tune bleeding into the next seamlessly to highlight the clear links between both styles.
Altan do hold true to their own signature style also, particularly in the more downtempo moments throughout the album. Slow reel Samhraidh, composed by founding member Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh is particularly captivating. The arrangement of Ma Theann tu ‘un Aonaigh is a truly delicate earworm, while the Cuirt Robin Finley is richly soaked in ethereal beauty.
Despite the album’s guest list being a who’s who of contemporary bluegrass musicians, what is most attractive about ‘The Widening Gyre’ is its clarity, with Gary West at the production helm creating space for each instrument to be heard to its fullest while never obscuring Ni Mhaonaigh’s gorgeous tones. With ‘The Widening Gyre’, Altan have proven that musicians with a taste for exploration will never be out of favour.