I'll admit, it wasn't too hard to pick because each and every week, I scan and listen to my podsafe Celtic music playlist. A song comes up. If I love it (or it's new), I play it. Some bands I play more often than others. All I had to do was pick my Top 20 Celtic Folk bands that were played in last year's show. I think I came up with 27, plus a few Celtic rock bands (a different blog post). I cut that down to twenty. Below you will find my favorite in no particular order.
But first, I need to let you know that the polls are now open for YOU to PICK YOUR FAVORITE CELTIC SONGS OF 2014. Go to http://celticmusicpodcast.com/vote2014 to vote. There 39 shows for you to pick your favorite songs. Start reviewing last year's shows so I can create a podcast JUST FOR YOU!
Top 20 Celtic Folk Bands of 2014
Hometown: Machynlleth, Wales, UK
Gwilym Morus started singing Welsh folk ballads as a child with his mother. As such he is influenced mainly by the folk ballad tradition of his native Wales. But as a student of Welsh literature, particularly medieval bardic literature, he also makes use of the strict meters that are a feature of classical Welsh bardic culture. His style could probably be called contemporary folk, with influences from other kinds of folk music including English, Irish and American.
Acoustic trad folk. An album packed full of original tunes, traditional tunes, folk songs with a fresh breath of air inserted and of course, plenty of nyckelharpa!
Hometown: Essex, UK
Hometown: Greeley, Colorado USA
The Stubby Shillelaghs describe their musical style as “high energy Celtic folk”. It has a rock energy and sometimes verging on heavy metal speeds, but it's all acoustic and does not typically utilize a drum kit. One critic describes their style as “bawdy and beautiful” the subject matter can get rather risqué but vocal harmonies and sweet melodic lines create a fun and unique contrast.
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
Colleen Raney is a gifted traditional singer who has just released her fourth album, titled “Here This is Home” which was produced by guitarist and singer Aidan Brennan and engineered by Trevor Hutchinson over the summer of 2013 in Dublin, Ireland.
As a member of the thriving Irish music community in the Pacific Northwest, Colleen has been fortunate to appear alongside Johnny B. Connolly, Hanz Araki, Cary Novotny, Magical Strings, Tom Creegan, Dale Russ, and Colm MacCárthaigh in addition to her touring work with the West Coast Celtic band Story Road with John Weed and Stuart Mason. Tradconnect.com writes that Colleen is “one of America’s best traditional voices.” (Sept 2013)
Hometown: Pilsen, Czech Republic
Poitín are an award-winning Celtic band from the Czech Republic. They play all kinds of Celtic music from traditional jigs, songs and reels to completely new material. This album marks their ‘coming of age' as a band – they've now been together for 18 years. They've toured in Germany, France, Poland, Italy and the Czech Republic.
Hometown: Dallas, Texas
The Selkie Girls feature soaring vocal harmonies and outstanding instrumentalists to create a vibrant, warm and energetic sound. They sing some old favorites as well as newer songs from Celtic traditions. Alli Johnson, the lead singer, sings in Scots Gaelic on several pieces inspired by the love of the language and a desire to keep it alive. Many of the members come from Scottish or Irish heritage.
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
Once called “the Allman Brothers of Celtic fiddle bands, only prettier,” Burning Bridget Cleary features the remarkable musical talents of Rose Baldino and Deirdre Lockman, who lead the band with high-energy and tightly woven harmonies in both fiddle and vocals. The driving rhythm and bass end is supplied by Philadelphia native, Lou Baldino on guitar, and percussionist, Peter Trezzi, on djembe drum. Founded in 2006, “BBC” has produced four albums and played hundreds of performances throughout the East, South and Mid-west, including a 2011 tour through Ireland. Their second production, “Everything is Alright”, was named “2009 Album of the Year” by Boston-based CelticRadio.net. Their newest CD, “Pressed for Time,” received 5 Star reviews and hit #1 on the Roots Music Folk and Roots charts. Battlefield Band founder, Brian McNeill, commented, “The recording is pervaded by an overwhelming air of musicians who know how to let serious music speak, and when to let rip a bit and just have fun.
Hometown: Seattle, WA
The Gothard Sisters are a dynamic all-female Irish music and dance group from the Pacific Northwest, USA. Their new album, “Compass,” is a Celtic-folk musical adventure weaving elements of celtic, folk, pop, rock and world influences with the sisters‘ signature youththful sprinkle of joyful
Hometown: Dublin, Ohio
A combination of traditional Celtic music, interwoven harmonies, and driving rhythms, the Dublin Harpers take the harp and bodhran to a whole new level!
Hometown: New Oxford, PA, USA
Across the Pond is a multi-instrumental trio performing their own high-octane arrangements of Irish and Scottish tunes and songs. Their music is traditional, but also has a quite modern edge. Finding that special balance is what separates Across the Pond from most other Irish bands. They grab the audience from the very first beat right to the end.
Hometown: Toronto, Canada
NUA is an innovative new trad trio, bringing a fresh and unique sound to traditional music, creating their own distinctive flavour with both original and traditional compositions from Ireland and Scotland. Based in Toronto, Canada, NUA consists of three award-winning members: fiddle player James M Law, guitarist Graeme McGillivray and bodhrán player Jacob McCauley.
The interaction between the three is what really makes the music shine, whether it be their soaring melodies or tasteful grooves. The trio is also well known for their exciting incorporation of odd time signatures and polyrhythms, which give the music an electrifying lift and spontaneity.
Each member adds their own distinctive sound and influence to the music. Although they are a trio with a sole melody player, the brilliant multi-tasking of each member is demonstrated countless times with perhaps a guitar-driven flat-picked melody, rhythmic fiddle playing, or melodic bodhrán playing to add to the mix. The ability for each member to take on multiple roles is one of the staples of NUA. This adds to a thrilling live experience, and a “you just don’t know what’s coming next” approach!
Hometown: Fairhope, AL & Charleston, SC USA
Banna de dhá features the duo of Tom Morley on fiddle and Hazel Ketchum on guitar and vocals. The name is a very loose ‘American meets Irish’ translation for “band of two,” but the musical whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Taking their inspiration from great Irish Traditional music duos, banna de dhá uses the repertoire of Irish instrumental and vocal music as their starting point, while keeping it all fresh and unique with unexpected improvisational turns.
Hometown: Huntsville, Alabama, USA
Black Market Haggis is a trio from Huntsville, Alabama. Their music can generally be described as “Celtic with other stuff thrown in.
Hometown: Newbridge, Wales, United Kingdom
Allan Yn Y Fan is one of Wales’ foremost traditional bands recording four albums and one EP for Steam Pie Records and touring internationally (Germany/France/Czech Republic) since their inception in 1996.
A multi-instrumental and vocal quintet creating a buzz about their own and Welsh traditional music and song – over half of the band’s material is self-composed.
The band has performed at prestigious festivals such as Celtic Connections and Festival Interceltique Lorient (both twice) and undertaken three major tours of theatres and arts centres in Wales.
Hometown: Dallas, TX, USA
Flashpoint is a trio of young musicians performing contemporary folk music rooted in the traditions of Ireland and Scotland. With a sound that is both sophisticated and spontaneous, they put on a stirring live show that is engaging to a variety of audiences. They have opened for some of the finest bands in the genre, including Solas and FullSet, and have performed with the likes of Liz Carroll, Oisín Mac Diarmada, Cormac de Barra, and John Doyle. Their latest project, an EP titled “A Timely Misadventure,” highlights the unique and genre-blurring sound Flashpoint is creating for themselves, incorporating subtle elements of jazz, post-rock, Americana, and pop, but always in a tasteful manner that colors and enhances their background in traditional folk music. All told, Flashpoint is quickly establishing themselves as one of the top entertainers within the folk & Celtic music genres and is poised for success all across the United States.
Hometown: Ennis, Co. Clare, Ireland.
The band comprises two brothers, Shane and Fiachra Hayes on accordion and fiddle/banjo and accompanied by Aodán Coyne on guitar and vocals. This young trad trio from Country Clare blend Irish traditional melodies with and innovative rhythmic and melodic garnish. These socks are audibly palatable! Having gained a fan-base from four years of gigging around the west of Ireland, this exciting group have recently started branching out and have been well received for their modern traditional style and energetic approach to music. This, combined with an acoustic musical interplay, three-part harmony and an obvious love for live performance, compliments the traditional essence of both tune and songs in a fresh and entertaining way.
Hometown: Cape Cod. MA
On Open the Gate, Stanley & Grimm take their Celtic-influenced modern traditional music on a world tour with jigs and reels straight out of Ireland, fiddle tunes from Scotland, Canada, Sweden, and the United States, an original tune named for Nikki’s son, and a playful pairing of a popular Irish seisiun tune, “The Mason's Apron,” with the classic Broadway standard, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Woven through the instrumentals are songs that range from the traditional favorite “Carrickfergus,” to newer hits from Irish songwriters Luka Bloom and the Sawdoctors—as well as the “Galway Girl,” from American roots songwriter Steve Earle.
Stanley and Grimm (fiddler Nikki Engstrom and singer/guitarist Sean Brennan) lead listeners into a celebration of traditional music through old and new interpretations of jigs, reels, and songs played with lively fiddle, guitar, and voice. Their last CD, Another Round, was awarded the Celtic Radio Music Award for the 2008 Album of the Year, and also took top honors in the “Jigs & Reels” category. The Celtic Radio Network describes their music as “emotionally stirring, exhilarating, perfectly splendid!” The infectious fun they have on stage and their intense playing have helped them to become fan favorites on the New England traditional music scene.
Hometown: Dublin & Galway, Ireland; Philadelphia, PA & Hopkinsville, KY; Montreal, Canada
The innovative and award-winning Celtic Roots band, RUNA, breathes fresh life into traditional Celtic music by digging deep into songs and tunes to discover the universal human thread that binds past to present. With influences ranging from bluegrass to jazz, the Philadelphia-based band delivers high-energy, stirring live performances that connect these age-old stories with emotions that continue to move and cheer contemporary audiences.
Mastery and spark on fiddle, percussion, mandolin, and driving guitar meet reflective and passionate vocals with an affectionate spirit, and invest the tales behind the music with poignant vibrancy.
With a long history of collaborating with Irish and Irish-American heavyweights, from Clannad to Eileen Ivers, RUNA’s members hail from Dublin to Nashville, but share a lively, open vision of innovation and heartfelt engagement with ballads and reels, Gaelic poetry, and bold step dancing.
Hometown: Nashville, TN
The Willis Clan is a dynamic and innovative young family band from Nashville, TN. The music is all original and yet has the feel of the traditional songs and tunes of Ireland. The family has attracted the attention of major music labels, management and even US TV with their own behind the scenes reality show on GAC – Great American Country. Celtic Radio.net says, “Their debut album is perfection in Irish traditional music.”
Hometown: Kalamazoo, Michigan
Embarr focuses on songs, ballads, and instrumentals from Ireland, Scotland, England and the United States. Songs are sung in English, and Irish Gaelic. Embarr‘s interpretation ranges from the “very traditional” and acoustic – to very original interpretations, spiced with world percussion, Appalachian touches, and nuances of electric guitar and effects. Don't look for “Celtic rock” here – but rather for fresh interpretations of both very familiar and much lesser-known pieces, all from the Celtic tradition.
Embarr‘s members are from an eclectic musical background. Currently the ensemble consists of 4 “regulars” wielding voice, guitars, fiddle, mandolin, bhodhran, and other hand percussion; often, as in the “Bushes Briars & Figs” recording, they are joined by a full time percussionist who adds bodhran, djembe, cajon, and cymbals to the mix.
You may not agree with these selections. That's okay. Cast your vote in the Poll for the Best of 2014.
Marc Gunn is a rhythm and folk autoharper inspired by Celtic culture, science fiction, fantasy, and cats. He is one of the top 5 Celtic musicians on the world's largest indie music website, and an award-winning podcaster. Gunn hosts the award-winning Irish & Celtic Music Podcast. He is Chief Editor of the Celtic Music Magazine. Download free funny Celtic songs on his website.