The Hour Before Dawn

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As the title suggests, The Hour Before Dawn is a mellower album than any of Solas' three previous efforts. The record is weighted toward the soft and reflective, successfully evoking musically the quiet sunrise atmosphere captured in Didem Atahan's beautiful cover design. "A Little Child," for instance, is a lovely slow air that gives talented fiddler Winifred Horan an expressive solo. "When My Love and I Parted" is hauntingly rendered with wailing strings. Even the union ballad "A Miner's Life," a song that might have been played with more verve on the earlier records, is given a very fetching mellow treatment centered around a rare lead vocal performance by guitarist John Doyle. The new mood is a welcome change of pace from the other records, which tended to vary little in tone from one to the next. And even in the quietest tracks, the arrangements are always inventive and detailed, a hallmark of the Solas style. But one can't help missing the explosive dynamism of past efforts. There is no "Maid on the Shore," "Pastures of Plenty," or "Song of Choice," songs that allowed the band to kick into a high-octane performance style unmatched by any of its Celtic peers. The band's song selections are also a little more conservative here than on The Words That Remain, which featured a few experiments with American folk. The one (admittedly significant) exception is "I Will Remember You," a Solas-ized version of the hit pop song that Solas leader Seamus Egan wrote with Sarah McLachlan. It is performed charmingly by new lead vocalist Deirdre Scanlan, who is perhaps not as distinctive or as remarkable a singer as the departed Karan Casey, but nonetheless provides a lovely foundation for the masterful musicianship of her colleagues. The cover, like much of The Hour Before Dawn, reveals new facets of the band's sound. This shouldn't be the only Solas record in your collection, but it's a must-have for serious Celtic music enthusiasts.

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