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Danú

If the other traditional Irish bands that make it to these shores are perfectly reliable workhorses, Danú is a champion thoroughbred. This is clear from the get-go, with "The Highest Hill," on the septet's fourth album. In this age of commonplace virtuosity, hearing a band as explosive and exciting as this is an uncommon treat.

It's not surprising then that the melodies--crafted from a constantly shifting combination of fiddle, accordion, pipes, whistle and flute--are so damn strong on the jigs, reels, marches, hornpipes, barn dances, flings and airs contained herein. The secret ingredient in Danú's powerful sound, however, is the rhythm. Rarely do you hear rhythm guitar playing as robust, focused and clean as that of Dónal Clancy, and Donnchadh Gough establishes the bodhrán (Irish frame drum) as the limber backbone of this music.

Appearing on her second album with the group, Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh is no flighty songbird. Rather, she possesses a rich, open and enchanting mezzo that exhibits textures and colors somewhere between the voices of Mary Black and June Tabor.

She has a natural ease when performing songs in Gaelic, such as on the delicately beautiful "An Cailin Deas Crúite na mBó" (which, according to the notes, translates as "The Pretty Milkmaid"), but also is assertive and charming on modern folk songs by the likes of Paul Brady ("Follow On") and Bob Dylan ("Farewell, Angelina").

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