Mozaik, Changing Trains (Compass Records, 2008)

Andy Irvine and Dónal Lunny first played together nearly forty years ago in the influential Irish folk band Planxty. They've both kept busy with all sorts of musical projects over the years; Irvine has a solo carer and is a member of Patrick Street, I've rattled off Lunny's resumé in a previous post so I won't repeat it here, and both have participated in the periodic Planxty reunions. They share a keen interest in music from other parts of the world, though, and they founded the band Mozaik several years ago to team up musicians from different folk traditions and explore their common musical ground. In addition to Irvine (bouzouki, mandolin, vocals) and Lunny (bouzouki, guitar, vocals), the quintet also includes the American Bruce Molsky (fiddle, banjo, vocals), plus Dutchman Rens van der Zalm and Bulgarian Nikola Parov (both play too many instruments to mention). Their 2004 debut CD Live from the Powerhouse focused on pieces already in the repertoires of the individual members, but on the new CD Changing Trains, Mozaik work with new compositions and new arrangements of traditional songs and tunes.

Irvine owes much of his long and productive career to being a master of the autobiographical song, particularly when he intertweaves details of his own life with the evolution of his musical tastes. Changing Trains has a couple of excellent examples of Irvine's narrative style. The first is the opening song "O'Donoghue's," which recalls many long nights spent in a pub in Dublin that played a pivotal role in the revival of traditional Irish music that started in the early 1960's. Irvine was part of that scene, and in the course of the song he drops the names of members of The Dubliners and also Johnny Moynihan, with whom Irvine later played in a band called Sweeney's Men. As Irvine recounts, it was Moynihan who first brought the bouzouki from Eastern Europe to Ireland. It took Irvine and Lunny to make the instrument popular, though. The second example is "The Wind Blows Over the Danube," a song about the summer in the late sixties that Irvine spent in the Balkans exploring the music there. By the end of the summer he had visited many places and fallen in and out of love, and was left wondering where the time went.

The rest of Changing Trains shifts styles according to the different band members' specialties. Molsky contributes a pair of old American folk songs, and Lunny gives a very rare lead vocal on a Gaelic waltz called "Siún Ní Dhuibir." The instrumentals frequently mix styles from one part of the tune to the next. The Lunny composition "The Humours of Parov," for example, combines an Irish slip jig with a Bulgarian horo, both in 9/8 time. "The Pigfarm Suite" combines several polyrhythmic tunes, the first of which is stately and the second of which is more aggressive. Other tracks, like Irivine's adaptation of "The Ballad of Rennardine" and Molsky's arrangement of the Appalachian pieces "Train on the Island/Big Hoedown" are simpler and more self-explanatory, but still quite effective.

Despite the individual reputations of the five members, Mozaik clearly sound like a fully cohesive band starting to hit its best stride. While I liked Live from the Powerhouse, I think Changing Trains represents a clear step forward for the band. The songs are very good, and the playing hits the very high standard you'd expect from the musicians involved. I hope the quintet can time to record and perform together more often in the future, because they have a good thing going.

Overall grade: A-

reviewed by Scott

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