Traditional Irish music may not be something everyone is familiar with, but it has seen an increasing amount of commercial success and popularity in recent years. While it’s always been in the mix with varying degrees of success, we’ve seen several Irish groups, grounded in the traditional Irish sound, come to the forefront of western music, paving the way for other Irish bands to make an impact as well.
If you’re trying to narrow your musical focus and listen to some of these bands specifically, you might have a hard time identifying them by their sound alone, because many have intermingled their traditional sound with jazz or other musical influences.
One of the best things about these bands, and their albums that they produce, is that while they decidedly stick with their traditional roots, no two sound alike. These albums and bands are rich in Irish heritage and are proud of their roots and where they come from.
If you’re just now getting familiar with Irish bands and what exactly traditional Irish music sounds like, you may be surprised by how the sounds of each band listed here. To help you really home in on what to listen to, we’ve given you the best album from each band.
1. The Bothy Band
If you’re looking for some traditional Irish music, then look no further. Most active in the late 1970’s, the Bothy Band was extremely influential within the traditional realm. The band was characterized by their enthusiasm, and exceptional musicianship making them extremely popular and well respected.
To get a feel for what the Bothy Band was all about, the best album to listen to would be The Best of the Bothy Band, which was released in 1983. Their traditional influences are strong in this album, yet they don’t lose their individuality.
2. The Pogues
Steering away a bit from the more traditional side of Irish music, The Pogues are characterized by their punk influences and sound somewhat raucous. They began their musical career in 1982, and had great success through the early 1990’s. After breaking up for roughly five years, The Pogues came back together in 2001 and are still performing and playing off and on (without the infamous songwriter and singer, Shane MacGowan). Unfortunately for fans, no new music is on the horizon.
The best album to dive into The Pogues music and find out what their sound was like, especially in the beginning, is Red Roses for Me, released in 1984. It was the band’s first first full-length album and is very rooted in traditional Irish music. This album has hints of a punk influence, but the traditional sounds cannot be missed. Also highly recommended is “If I Should Fall from Grace with God” which is also littered with Pogues classics, and likewise contains many recognized musical phrases from traditional music.
3. The Dubliners
The Dubliners may be what many people think of if you are trying to guess what Irish music would sound like. Melding traditional influences with a lively folk side to their music, they have penetrated the world with their sound.
In 2012, the Dubliners celebrated quite a landmark for their band-50 years together. This makes them the longest surviving musical act in Ireland. For those just starting out, A Drop of the Hard Stuff exemplifies the true sound of the band. It was released in 1967, and was later reissued and renamed Seven Drunken Nights, due to the first track becoming a single. This album has a very traditional sound to it.
Their name may come from the fact that the band originally began with three flutists, but since then, Flook has evolved into so much more. They have a decidedly modern jazzy sound and are well-loved for their musical imagination, which shapes so much of what you hear.
In 2008, the band put themselves on hold, but rejoined just recently in 2013, due to their fans cries for more. Flatfish, released in 1999, is a true testament to the flute playing that the band is known for. Melding their own sounds with traditional Irish music, this album truly gives you a taste of the traditional.
Like the Bothy Band, Danu is decidedly traditional. They came together as an official band in 1995.
Due to their superb choice of tunes, musicianship, and mix of both instrumentals and songs, loved by so many, Danu is the only group ever to have been voted Best Traditional Group twice, for the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, both in 2001 and in 2004. The best album to get Danu’s traditional Irish sound is, without question, Think Before You Think. Released in 2000, they are traditional and precise. This album is a joy to listen to and plays a wonderful tribute to the tradition of Irish music.
Picking out the more popular and well-known groups that either began in Ireland, or writes music with Celtic and Irish influences is a good place to start. You’ll find that most of those groups approach the traditional music of Ireland from an energetic and uniquely creative standpoint, making them a great way to add some culture and excitement to your playlists.
Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer and online marketing professional from Los Angeles. Her writing covers everything from the latest trends in the music, the music industry, to music’s role in health and therapy. Find out more about how music has helped her special needs son by visiting www.PrayForNathan.org.