Afro Celt Sound System
Volume 3: Further in Time
The Afro Celts have come a long way since the tickle in Simon Emmerson’s ears and later jam sessions that resulted in 1996’s Volume 1: Sound Magic. While that album basically stuck traditional elements from Irish and African musics together side by side with keyboards and synthesized beats, Volume 2: Release blended them seamlessly, resulting in a powerful fusion of world music and electronica that added up to much more than the sum of its parts.
Their eagerly awaited new album, Volume 3: Further in Time, finds the Afro Celts in a decidedly upbeat mood, using their new superstar status to draw in some heavy hitters for guest vocals, including Peter Gabriel and Robert Plant (they each sing one song). Further focuses much more on the African elements, both percussive and vocal, and also updates the electronica for new dancefloors. Unfortunately, this means that a lot of the traditional Irish material gets stuffed down in the mix, to the detriment of the album. Iarla O’Lionaird is still an Afro Celt, penning most of their lyrics (in Gaelic and English this time), but his transcendent sean nos singing is absent from much of the album, and even when it’s there, the heavy beats often overwhelm it. And although you will hear flute, uilleann pipes, and bodhran throughout the album, and fiddle in places, they feel much more like just random effects to be triggered from time to time than integral parts of Further. Finally, the album as a whole comes off as rather lightweight, especially compared to the incredible emotional intensity of Release (occasioned, unfortunately, by the sudden death of band member Jo Bruce from an asthma attack in late 1997).
But there’s still a heck of a lot to like about Further. The percussion, both electronic and organic, is amazing; the electronic work is overall fresh and interesting; and there are some very nice lyrics. It’s been years since I’ve heard Peter Gabriel sing, but on “When You’re Falling,” he still blows me away, and O’Lionaird’s backing angelic voice here is awesome as well. “Shadow Man” blends incredibly catchy dance rhythms with staccato, rap-like vocals from Demba Barry, with James McNally’s flute cutting through it all and floating high above. And “Silken Whip” shows that the Afro Celts can still craft the perfect mix of tradition and technology; flute flows in and around the beats, the trebly notes of the plucked kora trill like birds, and uilleann pipes and synth blend it all together.