Runa were formed in Philadelphia in The USA in 2008 and consist of vocalist and step-dancer, Shannon Lambert-Ryan of Philadelphia, Dublin-born guitarist, Fionán de Barra, Cheryl Prashker of Canada on percussion, Dave Curley on mandolin, vocals, bodhrán, and step-dancing, and Maggie Estes of Kentucky on the fiddle. The band often performs with world-renowned, guest musicians, including Ross Holmes (Mumford & Sons, Cadillac Sky, Chessboxer) on fiddle, Matt Mancuso (Cathie Ryan Band) on fiddle, and Isaac Alderson (The Yanks, Comas) on the uilleann pipes, flutes, and whistles.
‘Current Affairs’ is their fourth studio album and maintains the high standards they’ve set themselves. They play highly energetic and graceful, acoustic melodies with their fusion of music from Ireland, Scotland, Canada, and the United States. Reminiscent of Irish-American legends Solas the bands Irish-American roots shine through drawing inspiration from the celtic tradition and the modern realities of being Irish in America today.
Thirteen tracks that come up just a few seconds short of a hour and if its class Irish music you want then this is the place. ‘Current Affairs’ begins with the track Pete Seeger made famous ‘The Banks Are Made Of Marble’, written by a New York apple farmer Les Rice in the 1930’s celebrating the struggles of the working class. Kicking off with acoustic guitar and harmonica before the band join in. Sadly the band recorded the song the night Pete Seeger died and it’s as good a tribute to him as would be possible. ‘The Wife Of Ushers Well’ is a sad song of a mother’s loss breaking into reels half way through before returning to the song. ‘The Hunters Set’ is a collection of tunes centred around hunting from across North America and begins with the fiddle before the whole band finish the song with a almighty racket! ‘Henry Lee’ is a tune with its roots in the celtic nations and their offspring in the Appalachians and is one of the album’s standout tracks telling the tale of a jilted lovers revenge. The guitar playing is exemplary and leads the song in a quite jazzy way. Amos Lee’s ‘Black River’ is a slow ballad capturing the simplicity of the human spirit. This is followed by a beautiful collection of songs with dual vocals in both Scots gaelic and Irish. Its great to hear our native languages and it’s a true testament to the band. ‘The False Knight Upon The Road’ is a traditional song about a young boy who meets someone who tries to trick him. Claude Ely’s gospel song ‘Ain’t No Grave’ has been covered by artists as diverse as Johnny Cash and Norah Jones but never quite like this. Starting as a mournful ballad, fiddle jumps in and the song becomes upbeat with its story of overcoming life’s trials. ‘Who Will Sing Me Lullabies’ was written by Kate Rusby who is already gaining legendary status on these shores so its great to see her influence spreading across the broad atlantic. The word beautiful crops up a awful lot in this review and I can frankly find no better word for what I’m hearing. Kate is I’m sure honoured to have Runa cover this song. ‘The Ruthless Wife’ is the story of the death of vocalist Shannon’s great-grandfather James Allen Lambert in Philadelphia back in 1922. A proper murder ballad of a policeman (what else could he have been…) killed in the line of duty and a real ladies man. Instrumental ‘Land of The Sunshine Set’ is a set of reels and tunes that gives the whole band a chance to shine and shine they do with each instrument getting a good airing and is as perfect as they come. ‘Rairies Hill’ is a traditional Scots love song from Dundee and breaks into a lovely upbeat section in the middle. ‘The Last Trip Home’ brings the album to a close with a slow and, yes, beautiful song based on the plight of plough horses in the north of england when they had become ‘obsolete’. A truly horrible word used to describe us all when we are no longer needed and stand in the way of what they call progress.
The CD comes in a gatefold sleeve with descriptions of all the songs and has had as much care and attention lavished on it as the music that’s inside. As mentioned Runa remind me of Solas but not in any sort of derivative way. They have their own sound and ways and this album would be a welcome addition to anyones collection. With its elements of Americana and bluegrass as well as celtic it’s perfect for those quiet times when all you want to do is relax and contemplate life and its tragedies and celebrations.
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