Lovers of traditional Irish music will likely have already discovered Soltré, the four-piece band based in Northern Indiana. For lovers of traditional Irish music who have not heard Soltré, one question persists: Why not?Granted, apart from festivals, touring groups or special “trad nights” at local pubs (such as at JK O’Donnell’s on the second Monday of every month), the area doesn’t have a lot to offer in the way of live traditional music from Ireland or the United Kingdom. Though Soltré have been around in one form or another for a little more than a decade, it took till 2016 for the band to release its first CD. The disc, called Wherever You Are, includes 12 tracks of jigs, reels and ballads originating in the British Isles along with a few North American tunes, including one penned by a recent Nobel Laureate.
Started in 2005 by fiddler extraordinaire Sean Ellsworth-Hoffman, the current lineup includes Rick Willey on mandolin and tenorbanjo, Eric Fiechtner on bodhran and fiddle and Adam Carter on guitar and clawhammer banjo. They all sing, which allows intricate harmonies. (A fifth member, Nolan Ladewski, left the group shortly after Wherever You Are was recorded to ply a national act with his flute playing.)
The members of Soltré all play multiple instruments and all play in at least one other band, so getting together to play live is a challenge. The band has found success at a number of festivals around the Midwest, but the arrival of Wherever You Are allows easy access to this wonderful music.
The disc kicks off on a neighborly note with “A Man You Don’t Meet Everyday,” a song of Irish or Scottish provenance about a wealthy landowner who treats his fellow villagers at the pub. It’s a drinking song, but one with a touch of smugness. The Pogues released a version of it 1985. And like many traditional tunes, the song is known by several other names.
Trad tunes also tend to get tied together in sets. So on Wherever You Are we get the instrumentals “Young Tom Ennis” nudging “The Mouse in the Mug,” “The Long Acre” hooked to “Cuz Teahan’s Barn Dance” and “Brushy Run,” “June Apple” paired with “The Kitchen Girl” and finally “The Wise Maid” nestled between “The Earl’s Chair” and “The Otter’s Holt.” Just try not to dance.
Such juxtapositions propel the set as one song segues to the next, and the tightness of Soltré makes the transitions seamless. It also gives Wherever You Are a nice live “session” feel which is the way it was recorded, with the band seated in chairs in someone’s living room with the tape machine rolling.
Other tunes on the disc include “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair,” a favorite of Nina Simone’s, and “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)” written by Bob Dylan, a good Irishman if ever there was one, and a favorite of the Nobel Literature Committee.
“Cod Liver Oil” is a toe-tapper that hails from Newfoundland while “The Whole World Round” fell from the pen of The Dillards’ bassist Mitch Jayne and points to the tight link between bluegrass and traditional music. “The Willow Tree” is a beautiful modern Irish tune full of the weary sadness that the Irish conjure so convincingly.
The lilting “Dan Malone” mimics the ceaseless wandering of the title character, a tinker near the end of his life recounting his loves and losses. “Foreign Lander” is an achingly beautiful traditional love ballad famously recorded by Jean Ritchie in Alan Lomax’s Greenwich Village apartment.
Soltré are an immensely talented band, and Wherever You Are leaves one wanting more.