From its opening seconds of energetic fiddling, For Love and Laughter uplifts the spirit and re-enforces the reputation of Solas as a pre-eminent Irish-American band. Starting with three rousing reels in succession, the album attests to the superb musicianship of Seamus Egan (flute, tenor banjo, mandolin, whistle, guitar and bodhran), Winifred Horan (fiddle), Mick McAuley (accordion and concertina) and Eamon McElholm (guitar and keyboards). Their first album in four years, the 12-year old ensemble has enriched several numbers with instrumentals and backup vocals by the Canadian group The Duhks, who include Sarah Dugas, Tania Elizabeth, Jordan McConnell, Leonard Podolak as well as Scott Senior, Natalie Haas, Chico Huff, John Anthony and Dirk Powell.

Along with traditional numbers, the album features compositions by four of the five ensemble members. Sundays Waltz and Vital Mental Medicine/The Pullet display Seamus Egan's mastery of the rhythmic intricacies of the traditional Irish musical idiom. Winifred Horan brings dazzling fiddle work to her composition John Riordan's Heels and ends the CD with her heart-rending My Dream of You.

The voice of newcomer Mairead Phelan evokes a sense of inner strength and deep melancholy in traditional numbers Seven Curses and The Gallant Hussar. Notable in the latter number is the delicate flute work by Seamus Egan that frames her singing. Phelan's interpretation of Sailor Song by Rickie Lee Jones, as arranged by Solas, seems to come from within Ireland's shores.

One could quibble with their choice of Merry Go Round, with its country-style beat and harmonized vocals by Phelan and Horan. Though probably a crowd-pleaser, the piece undercuts the Irish focus, offering neither the robustness nor the poignancy of the band's traditional and traditionally-inspired material.

Tied to the title of the CD, There is a Time (for love and laughter...) showcases expressive male vocals by Mick McAuley and Eamon McElholm. This one more reason to buy this CD and listen to it many times for the musical nuances and many moments of brilliance we have come to expect from Solas. It is also a reason to attend their upcoming September 24 concert at the El Rey.

Audrey Coleman is a writer, educator, and passionate explorer of world music and culture. Research for the above article came from classes she took in UCLA's Department of Ethnomusicology, from forays into The Rough Guide to World Music, Volume 2 (Rough Guides Limited, London, Penguin Books, 2000), and  from obsessive listening and web-surfing on the subject.