An Spealadoir

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As one of America's primary settling places for the Celtic diaspora (trailing only Boston and New York), Chicago has long been a hotbed of traditional Irish music. One of the best trad groups to emerge from that scene in the 21st century is Bua, a quintet of young players who come from Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, and Minneapolis and whose instrumental virtuosity is nicely tempered by the kind of rare musical taste that leads the best Irish players to draw more attention to the beauty of the tunes than to their own overwhelming technique. They also have concertina player Brían Ó hAirt, whose singing is a joy and a revelation: while many of his compatriots favor a weedy, often whiny high-tenor voice, Ó hAirt's is rich and clear -- if there's anything to complain about on this album, it's that he doesn't sing enough. Notice in particular the gorgeous, reedy harmonies between Ó hAirt and guest vocalist Katie Else on the brilliant "Dobbin's Flowery Vale." But the jig and reel sets are far from disappointing in their own right, and at their best (such as the stomping strathspey that leads into a soaring reel set on the album's final track), Bua fairly explode with thrilling but controlled energy.

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