From the beginning, Altan was characterized by its passionate, full-blooded performances of traditional tunes, and of recent compositions in the traditional manner. Although their personnel varied and they went through several producers, their albums are consistently listenable and of high quality. With the 1994 death of Frankie Kennedy, who co-founded the band with his wife Maire ni Mhaonaigh, the band lost one of its anchors. Although they've rebounded and done some excellent work since then, their sound is different without Kennedy's delicate and thoughtful flute playing.
This CD presents highlights from the five albums the band made before Kennedy's death. The selection is uniformly excellent and showcases the band's range, from wild jigs and reels to the almost corny "Tommy Bhetty's Waltz," the humorous "Donal agus Morag," and the distinctive "Mazurka." The vocals are lovely, and the two solo flute selections are beautifully done. And the final track is heartbreaking: by the time it was recorded, Kennedy was struggling with cancer, and his consciousness of his own mortality gives his performance a profound sadness that almost brought me to tears the first time I heard it. If you already have Altan's first five albums, there are no surprises here, but if you aren't familiar with their work this is a great place to start.