The original mission statement for Red Guitar Music was a simple one; write about music we liked in the hope that our readers would feel the same about the acts we covered. We had no idea of the range of music that would turn up in the RGM inbox or even, on occasion, on good old fashioned physical CD. It really has been a revelation and our musical horizons have extended far beyond the boundaries we set at the very beginning. This eclectic approach seems to have gone down well and we hope regular readers will continue to discover new music which brings us to Afro Celt Sound System.
In 2016 we find Afro Celt Sound System celebrating their 20th anniversary with the release of ‘The Source’ their first album of new material in a decade. If I’m honest I only knew the name, and ACSS are so far outside my usual musical comfort zone as to be on a different planet, but I thought I’d give it a go and I’m so pleased I did. ACSS are led by founding member Simon Emmerson (production, guitars, cittern) alongside long standing members N’Faly Kouyate (vocals, kora, balafon) and Johnny Kalsi (dohl) with new core member Griogair (vocals, pipes, guitars) contributing to the trademark Gaelic influences for which the band is known. The ACSS is very much a collaborative effort and the album features a host of guests and friends both old and new including Davy Spillane, Emer Mayock (pipes & whistles) and Moussa Sissokho (djembe / talking drum).
Guinean female vocal quintet Les Griottes gently usher in the ambient opening ‘Calling In The Horses’ and the listener is immediately drawn into the world of ACSS as pipes and guitars intertwine around the vocals to set the scene for the epic ‘Beware Soul Brother’ with a striking turn from Irish singer / flautist Riognach Connolly. ‘The Magnificent Seven’ is the perfect marriage of traditional Celtic music and the African percussion power of The Dohl Foundation. When you add spiky lead guitar to the mix this is Riverdance on steroids (I hope the band will forgive me for that comparison).
The incredible rhythmic and percussive power of ‘Cascade’ is a joy with the bass groove anchoring the tune while multiple voices, acoustic guitars, whistle and Irish uillean pipes all manage to find space to drive this eight minute epic to a conclusion. Things take a more measured turn, at least initially, for the contemplative ‘When Two Rivers Meet’ a deceptively simple piece which builds into a tour-de-force with some very impressive musical dexterity in the mid-section.
With so many musical influences in play it can be fun to just dip into the album as there are surprises contained in every tune. Most of the songs are long pieces that are allowed room to breathe and the artists to combine their skills and influences. From the mainly spoken word ‘Child of Wonder’ to the banjo of ‘A Higher Love’ (tune ‘Monkswell Road’) that signals the arrival of long time ACSS alumni Shooglenifty to the party to the unexpectedly bluesy vocal of ‘Honey Bee’. Elsewhere ‘The Communicator’ and ‘Desert Billy’ display two very different ways to get your feet moving with the brass on the former is particularly effective and welcome.
‘The Source’ is an album blessed with superb production and equally impressive musicianship that is easily able to hold your attention throughout the near eighty minute journey and you’ll discover more which each playback. The multi-cultural approach of a band that brings together artists from many parts of the world, in these difficult times, must be reason for celebration.