Kíla, Soisín (Kíla Records, 2010)

Kíla have been my favorite active traditional Irish band for well over a decade at this point.  Their style has generally been very energetic and percussive, but they've made a point of trying to do things a little differently with each record.  While working on their 2003 CD Luna Park, an album dominated by long extended jams, they formulated a long term plan to make a dance album next, followed by an album of slower, contemplative instrumentals.  Gambler's Ballet, the dance record that came out in 2007, didn't come across as much of a departure for the band, but their new album Soisín really sounds like nothing the band have done before.  Inspired by the writings of Máire Soshin O'Halloran, an Irish woman who went to Japan to join a Zen Buddhist monastery, Soisín finds Kíla at their most subdued and subtle.

On some level, you could probably regard Soisín as a side project involving most of the members of Kíla.  Regular members Lance and Brian Hogan barely contribute, replaced by Eoin O'Brien on guitar and Martin Brundsen on bass.  Rónán Ó Snodaigh, whose stream of consciousness Gaelic singing/chanting has arguably been the defining element of Kíla's sound, only contributes some light percussion on this album.  The tone for Soisín is set immediately with the first tune "The Kissing Gate," whose melody is hummed by the band's fiddler Dee Armstrong.  I don't recall Armstrong ever contributing vocals on any previous Kíla albums, so the presence of a prominent female vocal on track 1 of Soisín really represents a radical departure. 

The rest of Soisín is, as advertised, quiet and contemplative. This may throw some long-time Kíla fans for a loop, but on its own terms the album works rather well.  There is some really nice acoustic guitar work, done by both Rossa and Colm Ó Snodaigh.  (Rossa plays his usual vast assortment of instruments, while Colm branches out quite a bit from his usual role as flute and sax player.)  Highlights for me were Armstrong's "The Bearna Waltz," uillean piper Eoin Dillon's "1st Ave.," and the title tune, composed by Colm.

Fans of the mellower side of Irish music will probably like Soisín.  People who've come to expect a frenzied, groove-oriented sound from Kíla will need to leave their expectations at the door, but I think they'll be satisfied by the results as well.

Overall grade: B+

reviewed by Scott

Kíla premiered the new album in an Irish church.

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