Solas' Seamus Egan Goes Solo For First Time on 23 Years

Photo: Courtesy of Hearth Media

Seamus Egan, founder of traditional Irish folk band Solas, goes solo with Early Bright. The masterclass here is one not necessarily to impress the intellect as much to leave an impression on the heart and soul.

Early Bright
Seamus Egan

THL Records

17 January 2020

On his first solo album in 23 years, Irish-American multi-instrumentalist Seamus Egan reiterates his signature sound – a lovely and lively hybrid that grows from both sides of his hyphenated heritage. Egan has been a star in the Irish-traditional firmament for decades, having first raised eyebrows when he – born in America, but raised in Ireland – nabbed top honors in the all-Ireland championships on four different instruments by the time he was a teenager.

Egan went on to play with a series of notable Irish performers, eventually becoming a founding member of the neo-trad "super-group" Solas. He also worked on the film The Brothers McMullen and co-wrote Sarah McLachlan's "I Will Remember You", all of which come to mind in this collection of tunes from along the Celtic diaspora with a few added touchstones.

Last year Solas announced they were taking an indefinite sabbatical, and their devoted fans will be happy to hear from Egan, one of its two remaining founders. This instrumental album doesn't have one of the many wonderful singers that Solas featured, nor does it have the rocking drive that the collective often called to the fore, but Early Bright has the spirit and beauty that the band's fans loved. The album is certainly not a Solas album, but it certainly is something that Solas fans could easily love.

At various times, the songs on Early Bright have more overt influences, whether Irish or bluegrass, but mostly they live in their own middle ground, made distinctive by Egan's warm melodies and his sophisticated playing and composing. Even though Egan has said that the album was a chance to "slow down" after playing with Solas for 20 years, the overall album is still uplifting even as it is beautiful and evocative. Egan intersperses the livelier tunes with some atmospheric pieces that seem like they could be from a movie soundtrack – music that has been called upon to set a contemplative mood.

"52 Herz" starts sparely with that sense of place. It then advances into a slow-paced walk with fingerpicked guitars washed over with a translucent melody from an accordion played by singer Moira Smiley (who performed with tUnE-yArDs). Smiley is the only voice on the album, briefly adding wordless vocals to the end of the dreamy "Everything Always Was".

"Two Little Ducks" features a fleet mandolin that has the vivaciousness of a bluegrass tune, but is played with an immaculate precision that gives it a delicate grace. "Simon Nally Hunt the Buck", starts with a tentative mandolin playing a stately melody, then slowly picks up accompaniment and the speed of a reel at a pub seisiún.

On "6 than 5", banjo and guitars play in the atypical 5/6 rhythm (like Dave Brubeck's "Take Five") and make it a toe-tapper that has a subtle "what the?" vibe given what seems like missing notes in the unusual time signature. The sweet "Tournesol" features a lovely whistle melody gracefully winding its melodies around the fingerpicked acoustic guitar; the tune then picks up speed and oomph from the acoustic bass and rhythm guitar.

At times the album has the intimacy of a classical string quartet, and, in a way, he reinvents the string quartet on "Welcome to Orwell" and "Everything Always Ways" with a bouzouki, nylon string guitar, steel-string guitar, and stand-up bass. He then includes Canada's Fretless String Quartet for the exquisite closing tune, "Under the Chestnut Tree".

Throughout the album, Egan demonstrates that virtuosity doesn't always get expressed in speed or tricky fingering, but should above all serve the song and the mood it is meant to create. The masterclass here is one not necessarily to impress the intellect as much to leave an impression on the heart and soul.

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