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Altramar - Crossroads of the Celts (Dorian Recordings)

As an album, "Crossroads of the Celts" is a more than just the usual CD collection comprising twelve songs - it attempts to represent various forms of expression on different levels. Aurally rich, there is music, poetry, vocal-arrangements and story-telling all intermingled. In a post-Riverdance world, people can be wary of music claiming to embody all things Celtic, while really masking a pseudo "oirishness". Altramar fall between neither stool and sound more like a meeting between Clannad and Dead Can Dance in a some remote monastic setting. The twelve pieces claim to geographically represent Ireland, Wales, Brittany and Scotland, but there is an intrinisically Irish echo in each work.

The vocals on "Crossroads of the Celts" conjure up medieval images and Arthurian scenes. As well as impressive vocal displays, Altramar employ an eclectic range of bygone instruments which makes their music sound hauntingly authentic. Many of the songs are steeped in history and spirituality that the quartet have reworked around old musical manuscripts. There are two songs penned by the group themselves. "Stantipe Smarmore" an a cappella drum-soaked piece from days gone by. "Amra" is an eerie instrumental composition with tinges of the Oriental.

Altramar succeed in bringing to life pieces from the eleventh and twelfth centuries right up to the sixteenth century by using specifically recreated instruments. The overall sound is a symphony of harps, violins, violas and the gittern (an ancestor of the guitar). A deeply spiritual vein runs through this work and it is an unusual and ethereal selection of music evocative of history and folklore.

Sinéad Gleeson

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