Just One Wish
When I first heard the group Solas play in Chicago in 1996, their incredible energy just blew me away, making traditional Irish music come alive in a way that I’d never heard before. One of my favorite things about Solas was their fiddler, Winifred Horan. True, she wasn’t as much of a “star” as the all-Ireland champs in the band (Seamus Egan on flute, banjo, etc. and John Williams on concertina), but the drive, precision and intensity of her playing really made the group’s sound come together.
For years I’ve wanted Win to put out an album of her own, and now we finally have her solo debut, Just One Wish. Just as Solas has been straying off their home turf of traditional Irish tunes to explore pop music, Win opted not to include any traditional tunes — every song is an original composition, all but one of them hers (the exception was penned by Seamus Egan). Drawing on both her classical training and her traditional work, they display a definite pop sensibility, making this album hard to pin down. Whatever you want to call Just One Wish, it’s definitely a lot of fun.
For my taste, the waltzes are some of the best tunes on the album. “A Kiss By Messenger” is a good example. With its jazzy piano, upright bass, brushed drums and swinging accordion, the setting feels just like a Parisian cabaret of the 1920s. Then Win’s fiddle comes in and steals the show, dippy and diving, classy but also a bit sassy, like a woman wearing an elegant floor-length evening gown cut just perfectly, so that when she twirls across the dance floor just a teasing flash of her legs is revealed. “Miss You” is another gorgeous waltz, with a very pretty, sensitive melody from the fiddle, and some nice mandolin work from Seamus Egan that gives this tune the feel of a serenade in an intimate little Italian restaurant. The opening track, “The Princess and the Frog,” demonstrates Win’s talent with reels as well, with funky drums, jaunty fiddle, and playful banjo combining to make it feel like a fun, sunny saunter down a country road. Most of the arrangements are tasteful and creative, except for the overpowering electronic beats on “Giants Fall” and “Albatross,” which don’t do either of those tracks any favors; “Giants Fall,” in particular, ends up sounding repetitive and bombastic.
But don’t let those few bad apples scare you off — Just One Wish is well worth checking out if you enjoy fiddle music with one foot in a concert hall and the other in an Irish pub.