The techno-trad-ethnic collective return with their second outing following the tragedy that almost tore them apart. Keyboard player, Jo Bruce's death came just as the Afro Celts had really transcended the loose collective status they started out with and become a cohesive unit. Despite the loss of Jo, however, the band has retained that cohesiveness, preferring to honour his memory by advancing the group he helped create.
In comparison with "Volume 1", which suffered a lot from a lack of identity and a tendency to highlight the different artists, this time the sounds merge and change, complimenting each other perfectly. Vocals in English, Irish, African and French flow together over a mix of ancient instruments and modern technology in what is less a marriage of traditions than a recognition that, fundamentally, all instruments are tools to make music that is universal.
Opener 'Release' sets the scene perfectly, featuring a bitter-sweet duet by Sean-Nós singer, Iarla Ó Lionaird, and Sinead O'Connor (who, despite all the bullshit, is a beautiful singer) that lifts the spirits with its lush melody. 'Lovers of Light' and 'Big Cat' are dance songs, in all senses of the term, mixing techno beats, African rhythms and Celtic instruments, which beat your resistance and force your feet to move. 'Éireann' and 'Amber' are slower, throwing different languages and types of instruments together, tying them seamlessly together with some simple techno effects. 'Even in my Dreams', 'Hypnotica' and 'Riding the Waves' are more techno-based, utilising the sounds made by the musicians to create eclectic dance soundscapes.
'I Think of…' was written after, and about, Jo's death and has the feel of an old-fashioned wake, with Iarla's voice keening over a backing that bursts out every now and again into a life-renewing lift of flutes and driving African beats. And then it all comes full circle with an instrumental version of 'Release'.
The Afro Celts have created a sound that could not easily be imitated, because the music is more than just a mix of cultures and instruments. Each musician is a true artist, revealing his own personality in his playing or singing, and that's what makes it completely unique.
by Donnacha DeLong