Solas plays contemporary traditional Irish music

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Solas has undeniably deep Celtic roots, but when the band delves into its repertoire of Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Nick Drake and Dan Fogelberg, it's hard to pigeonhole the sound as "traditional Irish." Still, alongside the Chieftans, Solas carries the torch as one of the oft-cited finest Celtic-folk ensembles around.

Solas performs at 8 p.m. today at the Strings in the Mountains Music Festival Park. Expect to hear traditional Irish music interspersed with contemporary compositions inspired by the group's seasoned musicianship and Celtic flair.

Who: Solas When: 8 p.m. today Where: Strings in the Mountains Music Festival Park Cost: $26 Call: 879-5056

After all, eclectic banjo-wizard Bela Fleck helped out on the group's latest CD, "Another Day." Rap producer Timbaland sampled Solas on his radio hit "All Y'all."

And with Solas' traditional instruments, including a slew of fiddles, flutes and accordions, a concertina and a bodhran (a traditional Celtic drum), there's no shortage of Irish reels and jigs to be had. Vocalist Deirdre Scanlon adds mesmerizing vocals with an Irish lilt that rounds the group's sound out beautifully.

Solas is best described as Irish-American, with band members hailing from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and melding musical traditions. The band blends folk and country melodies, blues, jazz and world beat into stylized, Celtic music that's downright uplifting and inspiring to listen to.

Solas means "light" in Gaelic. Light is the relaxed sentiment the band was trying to portray on its latest album.

"One of the things I was trying to put on this album was the feeling of people sitting in a room and playing," bandleader Seamus Egan said. "Recording 'Another Day' was the most relaxed experience I ever had making an album."

The band recorded the album in Egan's Philadelphia home, working on arrangements by day and dining together by night.

"I just think that we needed to feel comfortable again," Solas fiddler Winifred Horan said. "We treated it sort of the way we treat gigs -- OK, let's just play it and see how it sounds."

Egan, who was born in Pennsylvania and raised part-time in Ireland, has had a notable solo career as a composer. He helped write Sarah McLaughlin's Grammy-winning hit "I'll Remember You" and wrote songs and played on film soundtracks for "Brothers McMullen" and "Dead Man Walking."

A group of noteworthy performers in their own rights matches Egan's success as a musician, songwriter and producer.

In addition to being a nine-time Irish stepdancing champion and an all-Ireland fiddle champion, Solas fiddle player Horan has played with Eileen Ivers, the Celtic fiddler who brought the Strings in the Mountains audience to its feet during an electrifying performance two weeks ago.

Solas is comprised of Egan on the flute, low whistle, banjo, nylon guitar, mandolin, electric guitar and bodhran; Horan on the fiddles; Mick McAuley on the button accordion, piano accordion and concertina; Scanlan on lead vocals; and Eamon McElholm on acoustic guitar, keyboards and cello.

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