- 06 Feb 14
It hasn't taken long for the first classic album of 2014 to arrive, enthuses Greg McAteer
Iarla O Lionaird, Caoimhin O Raghallaigh, Dennis Cahill, Martin Hayes. I don’t think I’ve heard any of them put a foot wrong musically. Four more adept, sure-footed, grounded proponents of Irish traditional music I doubt you could find anywhere. Here are men who know following a tradition isn’t the same as following a trend, who understand you don’t, in point of fact, follow a tradition at all. You live through it and it through you.
I’m sure, if they’d wanted they could have made one of the most perfect, jewel-like records in the traditional canon. By introducing pianist Thomas Bartlett, from a completely different background, they’ve made something rather more than that. Their debut recording as The Gloaming hinges around Bartlett's melodies, which stitch together their divergent understandings of traditional tunes and songs.
It’s hard to explain the way in which the music is transformed. Recognisable, but in a heightened state, the results are a little like a fever dream, in that they are both lucid and strange. Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill are past masters of the art of slowing down the hummingbird’s wing intensity of trad to reveal an other-wordily beauty. Here they reprise that against the foil of Caoimhin O Raghallaigh’s hardanger fiddle, whose blurred atmospherics throw a darker cast on matters.
Iarla O Lionaird’s liquid voice floats above this bed of off-kilter calm, pitching like a currach, feather light, sturdy as an unbreakable hull. On their interpretation of Michael Hartnett’s ‘An Muince Dreoilíní’/‘A Necklace Of Wrens’ his voice is simultaneously delicate and robust, bobbing and frothing like a wave.
As I've said, Bartlett is the magic ingredient. He’s played with bands like The National and Antony and the Johnsons. Here, he’s completely bereft of his normal musical reference points. Instead he finds his way around by intuitively dowsing for the melody. He’s as surefooted outside the Irish tradition as the others are within it. This is one of the most transcendent recordings I’ve heard in years.
Having come together initially as a live unit The Gloaming returning to the concert arena to mark the album’s launch, with gigs in Glasgow City Hall as part of Celtic Connections (January 22); The Sage, Gateshead (23); Union Chapel, London (24) and National Concert Hall, Dublin (26).
Freshly returned from a jaunt around Europe with Dervish, The Henry Girls are gearing up to launch Louder Than Words, the follow up to 2011’s hugely successful December Moon, an album which opened a lot of people’s ears to their particular take on roots-infused folk.
The LP features collaborations with the likes of Session Americana. Overall, the project is truly inspirational. You’d like to think that this record might cement their growing reputation as purveyors of beautifully harmonised vocals and impeccable instrumental ability. With siblings like the Carrivick Sisters and the Rheingan Sisters vying for our attention the Henry Girls will be relying on Louder Than Words, and lead single ‘Maybe’, to stay ahead of the pack. Produced, like its predecessor, by Calum Malcolm, best-known for his work with The Blue Nile, this could indeed be the album with which they confirm their greatness.