Irish music and culture in America has always been a two-way street, moving music and musicians back and forth across the watery main. Philadelphia’s Irish-American roots band, RUNA, embodies this movement with their new album, Current Affairs, drawing equal inspiration from both the deep and ancient roots of the Celtic tradition and the modern reality of the Irish in America. On Current Affairs, RUNA, draw from their own family history, the stories of the Irish in America, old songs from the Old World, and Americana and bluegrass influences. With members hailing from three countries (USA, Canada, Ireland), it makes sense that they’d spread their nets as far as possible to pull in these very different influences, but what’s surprising is how well the album meshes together. That’s a testament to the vision of RUNA and to the ties that bind the Irish on both sides of the Atlantic.
Recording Current Affairs gave RUNA the chance to consciously push the tradition in new directions, bringing fresh ideas from American roots music into their signature sound. On the album, a working class American folk song learned from Pete Seeger (“The Banks Are Made of Marble”) rubs shoulders with a beautiful Gaelic ballad (“Aoidh Na Dèan Cadal Idir”) and a song from modern singer- songwriter Amos Lee, while an old British ballad (“The False Knight Upon the Road”) blends into an eerie American gospel classic (“Ain’t No Grave”). These different songs are laid atop a bed of lush Celtic instrumentation by RUNA’s powerhouse musicians, and it’s these same musicians who also represent each region of RUNA’s influences. Dublin- born guitarist/vocalist Fionán de Barra grew up speaking Irish Gaelic, immersed in Rarie’s Hill (4:18) 13. The Last Trip Home (5:06)
the old traditions. His guitar work, inspired by various open tunings, propels the rhythm of RUNA’s songs. Galway mandolin/banjo player Dave Curley weaves in and out of the accompaniment playing deft, sparkling melodies and bolstering the rhythm with his powerful bodhran (Irish frame drum) playing. Montreal’s Cheryl Prashker’s percussion brings a refined force to the music. Nashville based, but Kentuckian by origin, young fiddle champion Maggie Estes White brings a knowledge of bluegrass and Texas fiddle traditions. Philadelphia-born bandleader Shannon Lambert-Ryan is an actor, singer, step-dancer, manager, and world music vocalist; quite the diverse resume! In RUNA, her cool, clear vocals move between the clarion Celtic song style and earthier American song styles with ease.
Joining RUNA on this album are some very special guests: three Grammy winners! Banjo player Ron Block (Alison Krauss & Union Station) is a wonderful surprise on the song “The Ruthless Wife,” a song inspired by the salacious events surrounding the death of Lambert-Ryan’s great-great grandfather. Harmonica player Buddy Greene (Billy Gaither) and accordionist Jeff Taylor (Elvis Costello) join RUNA fiddler Estes White on a virtuosic brace of tunes, “The Hunter Set.” With so many very different musicians, it would be a disservice to call RUNA’s music simply “Celtic.” Instead, this is music conceived in the New World, but with distinct ties to the Old World. Music that looks forward as much as it looks back. Music inspired by tradition, but unafraid of a bright new future.