Tuesday, 18 November 2014

THE ALT

CD Review

John Doyle, Nuala Kennedy & Eamon O'Leary

When you listen to a lot of folk/acoustic music and the many influences which are being drawn into it along with the numerous shades of the genre there now seems to be, the demarcations of what is considered folk can get a little blurred.

Nuala Kennedy
So it's good occasionally to come across an album which makes you stop and grounds you once again as to just why it is you enjoy folk music so much and The Alt is just such an album.
The Alt is made up of three highly respected Irish folk musicians John Doyle, originally from Dublin. Nuala Kennedy, from Dundalk and Eamon O'Leary, also a Dubliner. It seems the chemistry is so strong with them they nailed this 11-track album in three days which is impressive by any standards.
Very much in the vein of The Chieftains, but perhaps not so global in its sounds, it is an album of beautiful music, unadorned and honest singing and a gentleness as soft as the sunlight on the county of Sligo from where the name of the group comes.
It is a gloriously died in the wool, 100 percent, 24 carat folk album and listening to it has a cleansing effect on the musical palate.
It opens with Lovely Nancy and straight away you get the feel of how Doyle, Kennedy and O'Leary's voices gel. Although all three voices are there to start it's O'Leary who takes the lead with Kennedy harmonising. The singing and guitar playing on the first track alone are impeccable.
The opener gives way to the bouzouki start for What Put the Blood which is executed perfectly by Doyle with Kennedy adding the light sound of the flute as well the harmonies.
One Morning in May is a gorgeously gentle ballad which gives Kennedy her first chance to take charge of proceedings.
John Doyle
Kennedy's voice has a light and almost childlike quality to it with a kind of Dolly Parton tremor which is carried along with her feathery flute playing while underneath are the understated strumming of her two compatriots on strings.
Geese in the Bog/Covering Ground is the jig on the album and is adapted by Kennedy who gets it going with her machine gun playing on the flute spraying the listener with clear dancing notes. This gives way to the second part of the track which was composed by piper Diarmaid Moynihan. The pace of these light prancing tunes never lets up and carries you along like a hare leaping across the landscape.
O'Leary slows things down with the ballad Willie Angler which is adapted from the traditional tune Banks of the Bann.
This is a wonderfully simple tune and O'Leary's relaxed singing gives this song a real soothing quality.
Another couplet Going for a Soldier Jenny/The Chandelier sees Doyle telling the story of a young man going off to war much to the consternation of his lover. With Kennedy adding the harmonies this is a deliciously traditional song with colour added through her beautiful whistle playing.
Kennedy's talents continue with the opening of Finn Waterside before her distinctive Irish tones carry the ballad across the track.
Eamon O'Leary
In an album as traditional as this then there had to be one somewhere about a battle, well the Eighteenth of June is about one of the most famous, Waterloo. The tune was preserved thanks to Ralph Vaughan Williams and Doyle's matter of fact singing tells the story without any sense of jingoism or unnecessary sentiment, almost to the point where it's closer to a lament than any other style.
The Green Gowned Lass/Danger Mouse and Dan Breen's are trio of reels which let the musicians off the loose with their instruments. Kennedy's flute takes presidence. All the reels have that traditional grounding but also have a very modern feel to them.
The penultimate track is Cha Tig Mor Mo Bhean Dhachaigh (My Beloved Wife Will Not Return). This is lament of a husband for his dead wife Mor and Kennedy gets the emotional feeling just right with the soothing sound of the strings keeping underneath her flute playing in what it really a gorgeous example of Gaelic music.
The album
There is a spiritual feel to the final track, The Letter Song, which tells the touching story of a preacher who went to the US and sent a letter to his loved one back home to warn her not to join him because of the harsh conditions he was enduring. However, the letter was lost and by the time she had set foot in New England her love was dead.
It is sung a Cappella and is a thoughtful melancholy tribute to the tragedy of the couple.
The Alt is a wonderfully traditional album from three artists whose skills are so finely honed they make putting together a collection of songs such as this look and sound so simply and yet provide music which is both deeply moving and enjoyable. It can only be hoped that this won't be the only collaboration we can expect from the trio.

The Alt is out now on Under The Arch Records








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