The Upshot: Irish-American group frames Irish reels in a postmodern context, featuring the talents of Doveman, members of Afro Celt Sound System and Midnight Court.
BY JENNIFER KELLY
This second album from the Irish-American quintet frames traditional Irish reels in a post-modern context, surrounding gamboling fiddle lines with minimalist piano and drone. As with the first album, also self-titled, pianist Thomas Bartlett (that is, Doveman) plays a clean, cerebral counterpoint to band leader Martin Hayes’ history-soaked fiddle figures. An additional violin, played by Caoimhin Ó Raghallaigh, layers in sustained textures and dissonances that shade line-drawn melodies with depth. Iarla Ó Lionáird, who also performs with Afro Celt Sound System, lends a light, mournful tenor to tracks like “The Pilgrim’s Song” and “Fainleog,” singing in a gentle, but guttural Gaelic against a shimmering, shifting curtain of string sound. Dennis Cahill, who has played with Hayes for decades in the jazz-fusion duo Midnight Court and in a traditional Irish duo, plays with quiet, unshowy mastery on the guitar.
These songs are all luminous, presenting worn-in folk melodies with a lucid, contemporary clarity. The experimentation happens at the edges, in the keening string dissonances that swell out of the interstices of “Casadh an tSugain,” or the minimalist chords that frame “Mrs. Dwyer.” Even the songs that hew most closely to folk — it’s not hard to imagine “The Bouley House” spooling out in a weathered County Clare pub — are sharp and imaginative. The playing, too, is wonderful, warm, collaborative and technically excellent; instruments cross and intersect and dance over one another without ever stepping on a stray foot.
I’m writing this on St. Patrick’s Day when past-worshipping fiddle music and leprechaun festooned homilies pop up with discouraging regularity on my Facebook feed. The Gloaming is different because it gets at the lovely essence of the Irish tradition without sentimentality or dumbing down — and also isn’t afraid to make it modern.
DOWNLOAD: “Cucunandy” “The Pilgrim’s Song”