Kíla, Gambler's Ballet (Kíla Records, 2007)

For well over a decade, the Dublin-based septet Kíla have been turning the concept of traditional Irish music on its head. Rónán Ó Snodaigh (vocals, percussion), Rossa Ó Snodaigh (mandolin, percussion, winds), Colm Ó Snodaigh (flute, sax, whistles, guitar, vocals), Eoin Dillon (pipes and wistles), Dee Armstrong (fiddle, banjo, dulcimer), Lance Hogan (guitar, drums), and Brian Hogan (bass) may sing in Gaelic and use acoustic guitars and uillean pipes, but their music is as likely to evoke drum circles and Gypsy caravans as it does all-night sessions in tightly packed pubs. While their previous album Luna Park saw the band veering in the direction of extended jams, Kíla opted to keep the songs and tunes on the new album Gambler's Ballet relatively short and simple, with an emphasis on the groove.

The overall sound on the new CD is something of a cross between what Kíla normally does and the more club-oriented approach of the Afro Celt Sound System. There's no conspicuous example of programming on Gambler's Ballet, but the band adds snare drums and cymbals to their vast assortment of hand-held percussion instruments, and Lance Hogan plays quite a bit of electric guitar for the first time on a Kíla recording. Not that Kíla has ever had difficulty getting feet to move in the past, but the band definitely made danceable music the focus of Gambler's Ballet.

Some things never change from one Kíla album to the next, though. The band have, hands down, the best overall musicianship of any band in Celtic music since The Bothy Band, and they also pack their recordings with enough fury and frenzy to power whole cities. And while their albums always contain plenty of instrumentals, Kíla can always count on Rónán for a few examples of his trademark rapid fire, stream-of-consciousness Gaelic vocals.

Despie a bit of a change in style for the band, Gambler's Ballet is vintage Kíla, and will please long-time fans of the band. The strongest tracks for me this time around are a pair of high octane instrumentals, "Boy Racer" and the Eastern-influenced "Fir Bolg." Kíla are as good an example as any that folk music can be as fun, lively, and powerful as rock.

Overall grade: A-

reviewed by Scott

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