- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2008

For nearly 15 years, Solas has been a leading light in the Irish-American music scene. The storied band was formed in 1994 when songwriter Seamus Egan pieced together a lineup of Celtic musicians in New York City. One such musician was Winifred Horan, a fiddler who has remained with Solas throughout the group’s existence.

“It means a great deal to us that there is still interest in our music,” Miss Horan says, noting the band’s history of personnel shifts.

Although Mr. Egan and Miss Horan are the only founding members remaining, she attributes Solas’ vitality to the influx of new talent.

“Solas decided to move forward after each lineup change and look for replacements that could add to the band’s momentum at that particular time,” she says. “It is a constant source of inspiration. New blood, new energy, new ideas, new styles; [it’s] all part of the process.”

Solas’ latest album, “For Love and Laughter,” introduces one of the band’s strongest rosters to date. Flute, bodhran, fiddle and accordion all figure prominently. Yet the album also takes a modern approach to Irish dance music with the addition of vocalist Mairead Phelan. Previously a medical student at Trinity College Dublin, Miss Phelan shelved her studies to perform with the group.

“We are absolutely thrilled with her,” Miss Horan enthuses. “She is a constant source of new material and ideas, and her voice is beautiful. She’s also an accomplished pianist and flautist; loads of possibilities to explore.”

“For Love and Laughter” explores some of those possibilities, mixing traditional Irish covers with the band’s own material. Instrumental workouts such as “Vital Mental Medicine” enable the musicians to flex their muscles, while “Mollai Na Gcuach NI Chuilleanain”and “Merry Go Round” emphasize melodies and vocal harmonies. The Duhks, a Canadian band specializing in eclectic world music, contribute to several tracks.

Solas is scheduled to make two appearances at this weekend’s Planet Arlington World Music Festival, a cultural event that also will serve as the band’s CD release party. Afterward, the group will begin a national tour in support of “For Love and Laughter,”with possible international dates thereafter.

“Traveling the world with Solas has been one of the best things about being in the band,” Miss Horan says. “The reception we receive from the audiences constantly amazes us. The farthest corners of the world respond the same to the music; it truly is the ‘universal language.’ Irish music, and good music in general, cannot seem to be lost in translation.”

Solas performs an all-ages show tonight at 8 at Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre. Tickets are $40 and include a catered post-concert reception with the band. Solas returns to the area on Saturday afternoon for a free concert at the Netherlands Carillon.

A tribute to LeRoi Moore

Saxophone wasn’t a major part of the pop/rock landscape in 1994.

The instrument belonged to groups like INXS and Huey Lewis, two mainstays of the ‘80s who sounded dated during the heyday of grunge. As for the penny whistle and flute, those were relics of another era, better suited for a Jethro Tull concert than anything on modern radio.

The Dave Matthews Band didn’t usher in a “reed renaissance.” Few bands were able to achieve similar levels of success while flaunting a competent saxophonist, and the instrument has stubbornly remained the province of ska bands and jazz combos. For the better part of two decades, though, LeRoi Moore contributed saxophone and flute solos to some of the most defining songs of their time.

From the punctuated introduction of “Ants Marching” to the brassy swells of “Satellite,” Mr. Moore knew when to embellish his band’s music. He was inconspicuous at times, yielding the spotlight to Boyd Tinsley’s violin or Dave Matthews’ vocals. At other moments, he would dominate the mix with woodwinds. As the band developed a reputation for melding rock songs with elements of funk and jazz, Mr. Moore stood out as one of most integral components of that sound.

The Dave Matthews Band has steadily become one of the highest-grossing acts in the world, but Mr. Moore remained grounded and indebted to the environment that raised him. He continued living in Charlottesville, the town that witnessed his first encounter with Mr. Matthews. He rarely removed his sunglasses in concert, preferring instead to maintain some sense of privacy while letting his sax do the talking. And that saxophone certainly talked.

LeRoi Moore died last week, succumbing to injuries sustained in an accident on his all-terrain vehicle. His loss will be mourned by his band, his fans and the extended region that served as his home for decades. Those wishing to make a gift in Mr. Moore’s name are encouraged to donate to the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation for the LeRoi Moore Memorial Fund. Checks should be mailed to Charlottesville Area Community Foundation, PO Box 1767, Charlottesville, VA 22902.

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