Pan-Celtic Combo 

Runa combines traditional Irish music with Americana in Friday concert at Berger

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A fresh Celtic roots band Friday to perform traditional Irish and Scottish music, along with tunes influenced by the New World.

Runa, which replaces the originally scheduled Old Blind Dogs, has a mix of nationalities that helps shape the eclectic song list. Two of its five musicians are from the Ould Sod, one hails from Montreal, another from Kentucky's bluegrass country, and one from the Philadelphia Irish community.

The musicians' unusual mix of styles and skills has won plenty of praise.

"Celtic music at its very best," declared Gene Shay on Philadelphia's influential roots station WXPN-FM. Their new CD, "Current Affairs," the band's fourth, was deemed a "masterpiece" by the Celtic Crier. And LiveIreland named Runa top Irish traditional band by LiveIreland in 2013.

The band's lead vocalist, Philly native Shannon Lambert-Ryan, and her husband, guitarist Fionán de Barra of Dublin, created the band back in 2008. They came from wildly different musical backgrounds.

DeBarra deployed his guitar skills on Riverdance tours of the U.S. starting in 1999, while Lambert-Ryan is a trained actress who's appeared in movies (she was in M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village") and a classical singer who's even sung opera in Italy.

In Runa, she successfully traded arias for haunting Irish tunes, singing in both Irish and English. In 2012, she nailed a nomination for Best Female Vocalist in the Irish Music Awards.

Irishman Dave Curley, a Galway man, an alumnus of the Irish band Slide, sings, plays mandolin and bodhrán, and sashays out onto the stage in step dances with Lambert-Ryan. Curley got a degree in Irish music and dance at the University of Limerick, which is producing a whole new generation of traditional artists.

Champion fiddler Maggie Estes White, the Kentucky native, edges the band toward Americana and Appalachian music. She's mastered both classical violin and bluegrass fiddle, and she occasionally drops in to play in the Grand Ole Opry in her new hometown of Nashville.

Percussionist Cheryl Prashker of Montreal likewise trained in classical music in college, but she went on to play rock and jazz in New York City.

Disparate as they are, the band members' skills all add up, a Philadelphia critic wrote, to "a lyrical sound" that is at once "unique" and "seamless."

More by Margaret Regan


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