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Furda – Bojany (2022)

This album has been turning its round in my CD player for about a year now, and it is still a firm favorite of mine.
Furda is a young band from Poland who easily mix Nordic folk with Middle European vibes. Who seamlessly blend ‘old’ traditional instruments with modern techniques and effects. Who manage to maintain an ‘antique’ sound while improvising most of their songs live on stage. Who have written some unique primordial troll-like songs that will definitely appeal to all those who love slightly dark Neo Folk music.
References I used in the review were Irfan, Fuimadane and SeeD. The band themselves are Influenced by Heilung, OMNIA and Lorn. The outcome is one of the best debut albums I have heard in years.
Follow me here for an extensive review with-interview-sniplets, or here for a full interview with Boleslaw Ren Rygiel singer, percussion and wind instrument player with Furda, or go straight to their music in the links below and be just as enchanted as we at CeltCast are. Cliff

Furda – Bojany (2022)



I seem to have known Ren for just as long as I’ve been part of the Alternative Folk scene. I first noticed his talents as he uploaded some snippets of him covering OMNIA songs on Flute. And he continued to do that. Sometimes a cover. Sometimes a doodle he played on a newly built flute, sometimes a sketch he recorded with some new studio equipment he acquired, a bit later also some videos of him working with fire. And every time I was amazed by his talent.
From those first ‘doodles’ on I encouraged Ren to do something with his talent. And boy, did he do just that. In June of last year a package from Poland fell on my doormat. In it was an album called Bojany by the band Furda, a collaboration between Ren and musician/instrument builder Jakub Podskarbi, and it blew me away. Especially the quality and musicianship on it. This was quite some debut they recorded and it didn’t take long before a couple of their songs made it to my personal CeltCast reviewers delights Spotify list. Sadly for them I needed a break from reviewing at that time, so the album never got the attention it truly deserved. Time to make up for it now.
Let’s start by asking Ren (right hand side) how he met Jakub Podskarbi (on the left):
–’ I met Jakub, or cukier (sugar) as we call him, at a Polish folk festival some years ago. We both can’t remember anymore which festival it was.’ He laughs:
-‘ Anyhow, Cukier was playing with his other band at this festival and in the evening we jammed with a group of musicians around a fire probably and that is how we met. After that I worked a while with a member of his other band Sumana, in the end Cukier became involved and that in a way was the start of Furda. Bojany is the first album we recorded together.’


The Album

Well I’m happy they did as Furda’s music is interesting from the very first beat the recorded. Listening to it with headphones is almost mandatory.
The intro Wdech is an almost improvised percussion piece with added overtone flute. Beautifully mixed by Jakun and Ren, also beautifully mastered by Maurycy Zóltanski It’s an intriguing combination of neo-folk with an almost Japanese percussion sauce poured over it. Really cool.
It also has an ‘old ‘ feel to it. As if this song was captured for centuries in the swamps of time and now is suddenly freed again. Like a bubble of methane popping out of the surface.

Title track Bojany

Title track Bojany has that same ‘old’ almost Neolithical feel to it. That feeling is ignited by the haunting sound of the suka biłgorajska: An ancient Polish string instrument, related to the violin but sound wise more similar to the nyckelharpa. It was extinct for a long time, but, like many old instruments in the neo folk scene, was rediscovered and makes its return here.
Ren: -‘Jakub is not only a musician but also an instrument maker who specialises in recreating or restoring old instruments. The instrument you mentioned, the suka biłgorajska is actually made by him. Our goal is to build all the instruments we use ourselves. We also try to achieve an ‘antique’ sound when we record our music, fitting with the instruments we play.’
Back to the song itself. The deep throat singing, the almost crying duduk, and the before mentioned haunted suka biłgorajska sound make this such a gothic song. With a lovely build up by the way. It keeps growing. An overtone flute solo, a kid running around, (As if Alison Shaw, singer of the Cranes, rushes by). Another old instrument, the jouhikko, makes an appearance as well. You would also think you here some deep synthesizer bass sounds, but Ren tells me that are sounds created by putting the suka biłgorajska through some guitar effects.
–’ We love to do that, take the acoustic instruments and play with them with effects. Because we do it with guitar effects we can reproduce that sound live as well. It’s all part of the improvised live set we play.’


Fooled

Furda made an official video to go with this song and in the accompanying text they explain what the song is about. [or so I thought]
– ‘For quite some time, the scarecrows have been disappearing from the fields. Locals thought this to be a mere prank pulled off by some kids, so one morning they decided to set up a trap for the mysterious jester. No one knows what really happened there, but since that day, all three volunteers, who wanted to catch the scarecrow thief, have not been able to utter a single word apart from B… bo… bo… bo… BOJANY!!!”



Ney Haro

The story, and the overall feel of the album, make me wonder if all the songs on Bojany are based on Polish Folklore. Ney Haro again has that dark feel. This music seems to slowly flow into your living room, caried by thick ‘shards’ of fog. Dark brown from the moors it arose from, black from the branches it past, Greenish wet from the lichen it touched, heavy from the myths it witnessed on its way. Or is it? Looking up the lyrics google translate ended up choosing Bengaly as the source of origin not Polish. I needed to ask Ren about that.
-‘I’m afraid we fooled you on both parts Cliff. Jakub actually made up the story you mentioned. That story that Bojany was based on a Polish Folklore story. [thanks Ren, that takes care of about 5 questions on the subject I had lined up. ] So no, the songs aren’t directly related to any mythical folk tale. Although the village where I live – which is called Bojany- is full of myths and ghost stories, so in a way we were influenced by that. Lisek for instance is based around a Polish nursery rhyme. But most of the stories we created ourselves, just like the story of Bojany.
For your question if there is Bengalese in there. Well no. All the lyrics are either in Polish or -and that goes for almost all of the songs on Bojany– in languages Jakub and me invented. This is something I already do for a long time, even before we started Furda. Almost all the times I wrote a song I would improvise word-like sounds that fitted well with the music , rather than them having a meaning. Its not something I do beforehand. Its more intuitive during the writing process. Only afterwards, transcribing the improvised words I’m singing I discovered that there are similarities in what I sing. That they become sort of an improvised language.’


Fooled again

Well, they got me fooled again it seems. But the song itself is a gem. the build up again is brilliant. It starts with something I can only describe as whispered Neolithical beat boxing. Or to put it differently, as if Gollum mysteriously cloned himself and all the Gollum’s decided to join in just for fun. And this is only the start. One by one elements are added. The suka biłgorajska bass effect sets the dark swamp mood. Gollums beat boxing sets the rhythm. Some humming, some shakers, a frame drum, a xaphoon, one after another shards of music drift into the song. There is no other word for it. And the vocals just finish it of. This is what an Neolithical soundscape should sounds like.

Mythical neo folk fun

An important thing about this whole album: it is fun. That is the really cool part about it all. Although the songs sound dark, like they come from some ancient deep dark Polish primordial wood, they don’t feel black. They have something fun and mischievous about them. Something troll-like.
A song that just screams ‘trollish-mischief’ is Lisek, the song Ren mentioned above. The wailing sound of the suka biłgorajska opening the song is pure genius. You could almost mistake it for the distant chant of a whale. Spooky yet unearthly beautiful. The repeated whispered vocals make this song increasingly eerie. Done like that, the lyrics become the heartbeat the of the song. The rhythm instead of the melody. Trust me, no kid will be soothed by this nursery rhyme. None at all.
Jakub and Ren love to play around with their vocals like this. They use the vocals as yet another instrument to add flavour to their sound. Characters manifest themselves trough their vocals. In this particular case it is as if Jar Jar Binks (Star Wars) joins the trolls for a midnight jam session. The Irish bouzouki riff under the vocal beat is catchy as hell. The soprano recorder and overtone flute solo are the finishing icing on the cake. A cake I gladly skip when the Jar Jar/troll choir picks up speed and ends in a maniacal spiral dance of some sort. This is not music this is a trap. And Furda are luring me in, deeper and deeper. Lisek is easily One of the best songs on Bojany.
Furdana is another of my favourites. Again it starts with a vocal beat indicating the rhythm, which continues throughout the song. The xaphoon -or Sax flute as it is called in Dutch- makes this ballad sound like a beautiful mix of the Nordic folk played by Fuimadane and the Eastern folk melodies we know from Irfan. Ren and Jakub truly created their own musical world. A world slightly dark, a bit gritty, a bit mischievous but with beautiful melodies. And I’m loving it.

Some background

Ren explains about the rhythmical build-up of most of the songs:
-‘ We didn’t get together in the way a band normally would. Actually one day, while we were considering the possibility of maybe doing something together, Jakub just messaged me and said he had arranged a gig for us at a festival. We were due to play 2 weeks later. But we didn’t have a song let alone a set or anything. So we decided twe wanted a two men band, using a lot of our instruments. The only way to do that was using a technique called live looping. A technique were you play a certain melody live and then loop that on the spot, building up a song right there and then as you go. The first gig was a bit hard as we still were learning and we didn’t make it easy on ourselves as we wanted to build up complex songs with many instruments but only played by the two of us and the assistance of those loops. But nowadays it works really well and our live performances are characterized by a lot of improvisation over those loops creating the song base.
Back to that first concert. We met up at Jakubs house in the days before with a lot of instruments and we wrote some song sketches that we rehearsed once before going on stage with them. A rather stressful experience to be honest. After that we worked more on those song sketches and in the end figured out how we could make the whole idea work for us.’

I find it interesting that Ren describe your songs as Sketches, as I have a line in my notes that says: The music seems to be build up like a painting. First the rhythm – quite often a vocal rhythm – is laid down as a sketch. Then the first melody is thrown down like the base colour of the painting. With that settled, the colours come one by one, brush strokes that add or subtract from the song, slowly but surely building it up to a lovely yet slightly weird piece of musical artwork.

Exhaustion and carpentry; a very special recording session

The start-up of Furda as a band was a strange one, but the recording of Bojany also wasn’t without its own difficulties Ren explained.:
–’ It was in the autumn of ’20/21 that we decided that we wanted to record an album. I live in a wooden house in the forest and we decided to record the album there, taking just two weeks’ time to do it and build a recording studio in my bedroom with Jakub sleeping there with me. Now I can tell you, recording an album in two weeks straight is fun but extremely tiring. . All though the creative part itself is really fun, we won’t do it like that again. As a speedrun like that, waking up, composing, recording, only interrupted by eating and sleeping is extremely exhausting. What made it even harder was that the walls in a wooden cabin are quite thin and my dad’s workshop is right next to my bedroom. And he is a carpenter. So we had to arrange our recording times around his working times to prevent all kinds of weird machine or hammering sounds getting on our sound recordings.’

SeeDish feel

This story reminds me so much of the story of SeeD’s first album. Just going out and recording it in the middle of a forest. In a way Furda and SeeD share this whole ‘forget-about-the-rules-we-just-do-it-like-we-feel’ attitude. They also share that mischievous element in their music. When we come to Zwiędły the similarities become even bigger. This song has something truly SeeDish about it, mixed with an Arabesque flavour for good measure. Ski’la Va is more Trolska Polska meets SeeD featuring Irfan -yes I know, it sounds weird, but trust me, it is there-, whereas Skeya Rokha takes me to the early days of OMNIA – especially the Irish Bouzouki part- with Koen (SeeD) on lead vocals.
To be clear these are all just references to give you a sense of the musical diversity that makes up the musical world of Furda. Ren and Jakub let their musical imagination run loose and created a wonderful neo folk world of their own. A world that is unique, intriguing and truly theirs.

Cliff

In this review I used parts of an interview I did with Ren. The whole interview can be found here.

Editor: Sara Weeda
Pictures by:
Kasia Szyffer (1)
Furda (2,4)
Jerzy Doroszkiewicz (3)
Graphic design of the album: Kasia Szyffer


The artwork is from the 1869 reproduction of ‘the drolatic dreams of Pantagruel’ by Louis Perron of Lyon.

Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola – An Raicín Álainn (2002) review
A CeltCast Classic



We have been writing reviews for you since 2014 starting with Omnia‘s Earth Warrior album. Since that first review many bands have passed our ears and we have happily told you about a lot of them. But it also means that there is a huge void of music that we have never written about. The pagan folk scene, the music that forms the roots of this station, is about 20 years old (If you take Faun‘s 2002 Zauberspruch album as a starting point.) The ‘modern’ Celtic folk scene goes back decades earlier even, with bands like Clannad, Silly Wizard, Pentangle and Fairpoint Convention popularizing the style in the late 60’s. And I don’t even want to mention the traditional folk scene, with a history that goes back for centuries.
The CeltCast Classic series is meant to look back at the rich history of folk music and wants to highlight the beautiful albums that were made before there was CeltCast. The time we all at the station were ‘just’ fans. Now I could focus on the big names, the albums that everyone knows, the classics so to say…. But is is much nicer to dig up those smaller, less known gemstones that were made. The albums that some may have forgot about. An Raicín Álainn by the Irish Singer Lasairfhíona is such an album. But it is so worth listening to that I’ll gladly pull it out of the shadows and into the spotlights one more time. I hope I can convince you all to give it a listen, I promise you, you won’t be sorry.
Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola or in short Lasairfhíona is a folk singer that comes from Inisheer, one of the Aran Islands, off the west coast of Ireland. As she herself says in the booklet coming with the album, Lasairfhíona learnt how to sing even before she could talk. With her style of singing deeply rooted in Inisheer’s sean-nós singing tradition, it was not a surprise her interest went further than ‘just’ Celtic singing and she became a graduate in Celtic studies from Trinity College Dublin.
It was in 1998 when she was ‘discovered’ by Hector Zazou and was featured as one of the lead vocalists on his Irish sacred songs compilation Lights In The Dark. In 2002 she released the subject of this review, her first solo album An Raicín Álainn at the Lorient Festival Interceltique, an album that got here a lot of positive feedback. Hot Press Music Magazine called it one of the best folk albums of 2002 and fRoots Magazine said it was: ‘one of the most sumptuous traditional albums to have emerged for some time.
It got Lasairfhíona a lot of attention including a special documentary on the RTÉ Léargas television series (directed by Moira Sweeney) in 2002; concerts as prestigious as the Montreux Jazz festival; television exposure; and even a guest appearance on Sinead o’Connor‘s Goodnight DVD, on the track Thank You, You’ve Been A Lovely Audience. She worked with Hector Zazou again on her song Dragonfly, a song that was used in the presentation of the 2004/2005 fall/winter collection of the fashion designers Prada, Issey Miyake, Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Chou. Her success continued into 2006 as her second album Flame Of Wine came out gaining the young singer even more praise, including a nomination for a Meteor Irish Music Award
…. And then the internet goes all quiet. The silence was broken in 2016 when her third album One Penny Portion was released, but other than a few appearances on several compilation albums there isn’t much more I could find. Not including the fact that she clearly isn’t forgotten by the Irish folk stations, who regularly feature her music in their programs. And that is exactly what I’m going to do right now, right here, so cue spotlight: ‘…Spotlight on!!!!

An Raicín Álainn

Opening song An Raicín Álainn gives you a perfect feel for what to expect of the whole album. minimalistic beauty. In this case a single guitar, a lone violin and a beautiful voice. That is it. Nothing more is needed anyway. Lasairfhíona’s voice is the main feature of this whole album. It is warm, delicate, tender and emotional all at the same time. She sings in the lower female regions and she has a lovely almost whispered, ever so slight hoarseness to it that makes it extremely beautiful. I can listen to her sing all week long. (Actually I did during the writing of this review.)
The second song; Bean Pháidín (Páidín’s Wife) immediately shows another strength of this album, it’s variety. Although the whole album is intimate and almost minimalistic in instrument choice, it still has a huge variety in feel and tune. If An Raicín Álainn werre a small watercolour painting ‘coloured’ with acoustic guitar and violin, then Bean Pháidí would be a fun pencil drawing sketched with only the aid of a lone bodhrán and a low ‘drone’ sound giving the song its body. A real powerful song in all its simplicity. I also love the combination of the Irish Gaelic language and the beat of the bodhran. I never realized that Irish Gaelic is such a rhythmical language with its strong ‘ch’, ‘th’ ‘mi’ and ‘shh’ sounds. It is as if I hear her voice ‘clapping’ along with the rhythm of the tune.



Caisleán Gearr is the first of the three acapella song, showcasing Lasairfhíona’s full talents as a singer. I imagine this to be in the sean-nón singing tradition of Inis Oírr (Inisheer). Which brings up the question what IS the sean-nós singing tradition? To quote Wikipedia for an answer: ‘Sean-nós singing (Irish for ‘old style’) is unaccompanied traditional Irish vocal music usually performed in the Gaelic language. Sean-nós singing usually involves very long melodic phrases with highly ornamented and melismatic melodic lines.’
It does describe this heartfelt ballad of a unreachable love of a man for a fair lady he met at Caisleán Gearr (Castlegar) perfectly.

I found a short article on Folkforum.nl where we get some more information about Lasairfhíona’s musical roots. In this 2005 article it says the following:
On the Aran Islands, where Lasairfhíona Ni Chonaola grew up, there is a big singing tradition that grew into the sean-nós style. Although Lasairfhíona is regularly connected with that style, she rather not be labeled as such: – “On the islands there were just songs,” She says in an interview with The Irish Times: “We just sang songs. We didn’t call them sean-nós. I came from a sean-nós background, but I live in the modern time, too, so there are inevitably influences there.’ In an interview with the Sunday times she underlines this will to express herself without the bounderies of musical label limiting her artistic possibillitys even more. Tradition is clearly important but artistic freedom evenso: – “There is something in the islands, a sense of mystery. It’s hard to define what’s special about them; but I was quite privileged to be raised there. The song and the singer were appreciated, there was silence for a person that sang, so it gave me the confidence to sing I expected to be listened to. “But I also live in the modern era. I wasn’t brought up with a gramophone, so there are influences from nowadays and you have to go with that. You can’t live in the past. It’s why I like living in the city and on the island. On the island I can relax with the sea around me, then go to the hustle and bustle of the city.”

reading how Lasairfhíona expresses her love for the relaxing sea in the interview fragment above, it is an easy bridge to Oileán Na Teiscinne (The Isle Of Teiscinn), the next song I want to pick up on. You can feel every ounce of that love reaching you through your speakers as this song starts. You can hear the tide gently coming in. The calmness of the waves, combined with an almost meditative guitar tune will instantly calm you down. The soft, single-voiced ‘choir’ in the background, and Lasairfhíona spoken lyrics over it are the icing on the cake. One of the best songs on this album in my opinion.



After the poetic calmness of Oileán Na Teiscinne, comes the more serene calmness of Banríon Loch Na Naomh (The Queen Of Loch Na Naomh), a duet between harp and voice, a typical folk ballad about a not-so-typical meeting between a ghostly lady and a limbless warrior in the deep of the Celtic night.
What I especially notice in this song is how Lasairfhíona just let’s her voice flow naturally while singing. She sounds as if she is at the very limit of her high voice in this song, sometimes maybe even a wee bit above it, but she just goes with it. Allowing her voice to break a bit while it reaches for that softly whispered high note, making the sound even more intense, more vulnerable and eerie, but therefore more beautiful than it would have been if she used her obvious singing technique to form the note perfectly. It makes Banríon Loch Na Naomh another of the many favourites of mine on this album.

Talking about favourites, I feel a big smile inside every time Bímse Féin Ag Iascaireacht is playing. It is the odd one out on this CD, as the lead vocals are not by Lasairfhíona, but by her dad, MacDara Ó Chonaola, a poet who wrote several of the songs on An Raicín Álainn. The song itself is a fun singalong accompanied by bodhrán, with Lasairfhíona on backing vocals. In this song it becomes clear that the vocal talent runs in the family, as MacDara could easily be featured as one of the lead vocalists of M’anam. (In all fairness I thought he was at first)

MacDara Ó Chonaola is not the only person contributing to this lovely debut album. We hear Pat Hargan on guitar, Mary Bergin on tin & low whistle, Johnny McDonagh (former De Dannan) on bodhrán, Paul Dooley on Clàrsach (the Celtic harp), Alex Barcelona on piano accordion and bells, and Máire Breatnach on fiddle, viola and piano, who all add their delicate parts to Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola’s music. And I say that deliberately, as all musicians play purely in service of Lasairfhiona’s voice. the instruments seem to be there like illustrations in a well written book,to enhance the intensity of the story.
This feeling is even more enhanced by the beautiful production of the music by Máire Breatnach. She and Lasairfhíona carefully selected the instruments each song needed, with a clear ‘less is more’ approach, giving each song its very own colour. Be it the gentle colour of guitar and fiddle, the ancient combination of harp and vocals, the rich colour of the guitar and viola, the ‘classical’ combination of piano and tin whistle, the romantic sound of the piano accordion and a distant bell, ore no colour at all, as are the beautiful acapella songs on An Raicín Álainn or the sketched pencil stripes of the bodhrán/vocal combination.

Due to these carefully made choices this is the most intimate album I have heard in a long while. I have often described in reviews how I had the feeling the artists were sitting right there with me in my living room, but with this album it is the other way around. I have the distinct impression I was lucky enough to walk into the space Lasairfhíona was in, singing to herself. Every time I hear it the sound stops me in my tracks, leaving me with the deep urge to quietly sit down in a corner, disappear into the shadow and listen, just listen.
The first time I clearly had that urge was listening to Banríon Loch Na Naomh, but it happened a couple of times. When listening to Tonnta Chonamara (The Waves Of Connemarra) for instance, or the acapella song Amhrán An Phúc. But find the feeling especially strong listening to De Thaisme (Coincidence), a song Lasairfhíona is lilting, only accompanied by the bodhrán. Lasairfhíona’s whispered singing style feels almost introvert in this song, and the clever reverb on the bodhrán and her voice even enhance that feeling. Musical simplicity in all its beauty.



Another example of that ‘introvert’ singing style is Ar Bhruacha Na Laoi even though it is one of the more richly arranged songs on this album. The viola melody gives it a suprisingly Eastern feel, in the direction of Katie Melua‘s Nine Million Bicycles. Come to think of it, Katie Melua has that same whispered, delicate, almost introvert singing style I find so beautiful in lasairfhióna’s voice.

All in all this is just a beautiful debut album. As I said in the intro, after this Lasairfhíona went on to release Flame Of Wine in 2005 and One Penny Portion in 2016, both also well produced beautiful folk albums, well worth listening to, but it is the intimate magic that Lasairfhíona, Máire Breatnach, and all the other musicians captured on An Raicín Álainn that makes this album stand out for me.
A true folk Classic, well worth putting the spotlight on one more time.

Cliff

Editor: Sara
Cover art: MacDara O’Conaola
Quotes taken from:
– Wikipedia
– Folkforum.nl

Tir Nan Og – Sing, Ye Bastards (2020)



Dear reader, get yourself a comfy seat, a nice slice of Irish barmbrack, and a good glass of fine Irish whiskey, ’cause this review may take a while. Analysing Tir Nan Og‘s fifth album Sing, Ye Bastards! left me with five pages of notes and an instant urge to tell you all about it. For those of you who want to have dinner early, here is the short version: if you like good old Irish party folk with a cool stadium rock production, this is your CD. Get your best boots on, finish your Irish stew, make sure you get yourself to the nearest pub, and party it down till the break of dawn. (Or all the booze is gone, whichever comes first).
So, now that the warning is out, I can go all nerdy on this CD without feeling guilty about it. After their strong 2018 album From The Gallows, Matze (violin, nyckelharpa), Sarah (flute, vocals), Joggl (four-string electric bass), Robert (guitar, vocals), Andi (whistles, pipes, vocals) and Volker (drums, bodhrán) have released yet another hit album, full of weird hooks, cool riffs, and groovy breaks bound to give you the best evening you’ve had in a long time! Now I do realize that names like Matze, Joggl, and Volker don’t sound particularly Irish, and you would be right in that assumption. Tir Nan Og is a Bavarian band, but I didn’t really notice. “Cool Irish band,” it says in my first notes: “Is that female vocalist American?”.
No rest for the listener

Not surprising because Sing Ye Bastards! feels Irish from the very first note played. A fast, catchy violin riff starts it all, a first drum break follows within seconds, effortlessly flowing into a catchy verse with an added whistle for some bonus Irish cheer. The chorus is an instant sing-along affair that then flows into a short violin solo with groovy bass to keep your feet moving. Back is the drum break, some first epic female backing vocal, it’s all there…, and we are only 90 seconds in the song. Damn, this band is something else! They throw all their strengths at you, and almost all at once. Strong male and female vocals, more musical twists in one song than you would normally hear on a whole album, even a 10-second drum solo towards the end, and we are still only talking about the first song on the album! “God almighty, have mercy on our souls” the band sings. “God almighty, have mercy on our hearts” I say. This is something else!



The official video for Fear Gorta

For a wee moment, I think I will be able to catch my breath on the second song: Last Order. That thought only lasts for the slow acapella intro Tir Nan Og sing. After that the drums, bass, and bagpipes take control of my feet again, and of I whizzing go. Someone tell the devil and ‘mye’ wife that they’ll have to wait a while, pour me another pint, and let me dance!! This stuff is awesome! The only moments you are allowed to catch your breath are the moments of silence separating the songs from each other.

Ok! Hold on! Time to get out of the Maelstrom, to swallow a Green Pill, slow down, and get some sense out of myself.
Soooo, to say something sensible: Tir Nan Og plays a very catchy version of punky Irish folk-rock. Extremely catchy actually. The cool thing is that they do that mostly acoustically. No distorted guitars, no screaming vocals, no nothing of that. Just the power of good old acoustic instruments, strong vocals, a slick production, and some darned good songwriting. Let’s start with that last bit first as it is the stand-out thing in my opinion. Tir Nan Og have a knack for surprising you, every 20 seconds it seems. Twists, breaks, solos, harmonies, they play with it as if they were a prog band. Fear Gorta, Last Order, Maelstrom, the whole album is just full with them, making this a highly entertaining album.

Tir Nan Og, a steaming folk band

So what are we talking about style-wise? Again, Tir Nan Og go for variety. Fear Gorta and Last Order are steaming acoustic party punk-folk songs, Maelstrom reminds me of the latest Pyrolysis album, especially in the vocals. Highlight in this song is Matze’s furious violin solo. I’m pretty sure sparks were coming off his strings when he played that in the studio. What I also love are the harmonies. The three voices of Robert, Sarah and Andi fit nicely together giving the music even more power, but that violin solo…darn, that one is addictive!

The Wanderings Of Oisin gives a more poppy feel to Tir Nan Og’s folk-punk. The intro keeps reminding me of something, but I couldn’t tell you what it is. It doesn’t matter. Again the whole song is catchy as hell. Especially the flute melody Sarah treats us with. Another strong part of Tir Nan Og’s sound is Joggl’s bass playing, not only on this song but over the whole album. I love the groove he adds to the songs. It gives Tir Nan Og’s music even more power, and a lot more dance credibility. Getting back to The Wanderings of Oisin; the chorus at the very end of this song, featuring Sarah on vocals, is one of those many cool curveballs the band constantly throws at you, as is the surprising acapella end.

With the song Green Pill, the feel of the music starts to shift from acoustic punk-folk towards folk-rock, but still with a strong Irish flavour to it. Let’s call it a nice blend of German punk-rockers Donots and our own Harmony Glen. A special mention has to go to Sarah’s whistle solo halfway through the song and the violin finishing it all off weaving in another famous tune. [Editors note: That would be Cooley’s Reel]
We’ve Been Everywhere has that same rock anthem feel to it. A big part of that can be attributed to the production. Where the previous album, From The Gallows (2018), still had a rougher, more punky feel to it, the production of Sing, Ye bastard! is fuller, rounder; there are more layers in the vocals, more effects; the bass and drums have more ‘oomph’. it all adds up towards a strong stadium rock feel which I love. I also love the “weird” Al Yankovic rap-part Andi pulls out of the bag in this song, soon to be followed by what seems to be a guest appearance of the Red Hot Chilli Pipers. Go Andi, go Andi!!!

Strong Harmonies

One song further and we go Greek, combined with a fun bit of German Hoompha folk for good measure. There are many bands that say they have no limits when writing music. Tir Nan Og clearly wants to take that statement one step further! So Sláinthe is a mix of Greek, Irish, and German influences. Next song I Sold My Soul starts with a bagpipe riff that could easily have been written by The Sidh‘s Iain Alexander Marr. The song itself is a catchy Pyrolysis-type folk-rock anthem.



The second single: I sold My Soul

On Stone Cold Heart Sarah gets to show off her vocal talents. Both she and Robert have big voices that can easily hold their own against the powerhouse folk the band is playing. I’m just loving all of this, song after song. Every song has its own cool moment, its own cool twist. Listen to those driving drums in Stone Cold Heart. If you didn’t hear those folky whistles and violin tunes it could just as well be a drum fill by funk-rockers Living Colour. Especially when Joggl joins in on his electric bass to “funk” everything up even more; one of the few moments the band goes into a distorted overdrive. Sarah’s strong vocals finish this power ballad perfectly.

Sea of Sorrow is the first real moment of peace on Sing, Ye bastard!. An acoustic ballad that could easily be found on a Golden Earring album, with Robert taking on the role of George Kooymans. I’m loving Robert’s vocals throughout the whole album. Just like Sarah, he has the perfect voice for this band. Strong, powerful, with just the right amount of hoarseness, and capable of giving every song the colour it needs. May I also highlight the harmonies that brighten up the whole album? They pop up all over the place, but the most beautiful one has to be the ending of Sea Of Sorrow. Goosebumps.

The surpises keep on coming

Tir Nan Og are stíll not done surprising me. The Song Remains almost starts like a soundtrack, quickly flowing into something I can only describe as symphonic prog-folk with a touch of theatre in it. The call and response singing lines at 1:34 even remind me of Ayreon. Are there no limits to the things this band will include in their music?!?!?! Speaking of Ayreon, I could swear the flute solo following after that could have been played by Thijs van Leer (Focus), one of the prominent guest musicians on Ayreon’s The Electric Castle.

I think by now it’s clear Tir Nan Og are not ‘just’ a punky acoustic folk band. Nope, this is a full-grown folk-rock unit. Inventive in their songwriting, cheeky in every note they play, with a strong link to their Irish folk roots…

The final twist

Now we get to a fun moment. First I’ll let you read the original text I wrote to end this review: ‘…with a strong link to their folk roots. The Scrum /Harmony Glen-like power ballad O’Hanlan’s Last Words for instance gives you clear proof of that. What a band…WHAT A BAND!!
And this is the final twist the band threw at me, it is Robert writing me in response of the review: ‘O’Hanlon’s Last Words was actually performed by Harmony Glen as a guest track on this CD. (A cover of a song from our last CD).
That would explain why I thought it sounded a lot like Harmony Glen yes (blushes). And with all of you laughing it is time to round up this review.
It is high time for CeltCast to host their own St. Patrick’s day folk-rock concert. I say put Tir Nan Og top of the bill, co-headlining with Harmony Glen of course, and Pyrolysis as support act. Now that would be an evening! Can I already reserve my tickets!? Pretty please!?



Tir Nan Og performing live at Folk Am Neckar (2019)

– Cliff

Editor: Iris
Cover art: Santana Raus: Santichan illustration
pictures: Andi Fingas
Picture editing: Andre Freitag

Shane Ó Fearghail – Born From Tradition (2020)



The first reviews of 2022 seem to have a common theme: these are the reviews of the golden voices. Look at the list: Iona Fyfe, Mia Guldhammer and Morten Alfred Høirup, Gillian Frame and Findlay Napier, they all released stunning albums highlighting their unique vocal talents. In this review we continue this theme as Shane Ó Fearghail is another one blessed with a golden voice.
Shane is a singer-songwriter, born in Dublin but now living in Vienna. He has released 3 albums until now: The Watcher & The comet (2009), Everything You Need (2012) and They Might See Dolphins (2016). His latest full-length album is called Born From Tradition, and it is his most intimate album by far.
Before I go deeper into Born From Tradition I want to dive into Shane’s back catalogue a bit. For the most part, there isn’t a note of folk to be heard. But I decided to ignore that small fact, as I loved what I was hearing. His first album, The Watcher & The Comet, is an indie-pop pearl. it contains alternative pop songs, reminding me of bands like James, The Blue Aeroplanes, and especially Crowded House, but in this case sung by the singer-songwriter nephew of Jim Diamond ( Ph.D., Jim Diamond) or Feargal Sharkey ( The Undertones, Feargal Sharkey ). Songs like Round The Hardway; All Your Features; the power ballad Satellite (with a cool touch of Muse over it); Grace (with a stroke of Coldplay ); actually the whole album is a must-have for fans of this style of music. Songs like Jesus I can Try; Mermaid (The Atlantean lullaby); and The Hero Of Waterloo showcase Shane’s love for storytelling ballads, something I will come back to later.
As an ’80s teen there is another thing I love about The Watcher & The Comet, its distinctive 80’s guitar sound. Listening to Shane’s first album makes me want to grab an old U2 or early Coldplay LP just to stay in the same vibe. Especially Mermaid (The Atlantean Lullaby) is a beautiful cross between Crowded House and Coldplay.

That specific 80’s sound is almost gone on the follow-up albums: Everything You Need Is Here (2012) and They Might See Dolphins (2016). Instead, we hear a cleaner sound, more in the direction of R.E.M, with occasional string sections that seem to come straight from a later The Beatles album. Just listen to Who Came First, (the first song on Everything You Need Is Here) and you’ll know exactly what I mean.
You will hear the first folk influences pop up in songs like Hey Little Sister and It’s Up To You on Everything You Need Is Here. The folk influences become even more apparent on the album They Might See Dolphins. Just listen to Read Between The Lines, Chalk, but especially Faerie Tree (hello Mike Scott’s The Waterboys) and you will hear the Irish folk heritage clearly shining through.

BORN FROM TRADITION; A SINGER-SONGWRITER BALLADEER

Having said that, it is still a big step from the first three albums with their alternative band sound to the solo singer-songwriting balladeer Shane becomes on Born From Tradition. So I had to ask about it: What made him venture into his Irish musical heritage?
‘Well it starts with my granny Olive. She was a real Dubliner, a great woman from an older world. Irish and yet distinctly Dublin. The old songs and stories were part of her world and that tradition was passed on to us thankfully.
Born From Tradition, for now, is the closest I will get to the music I was reared on; the songs I learned and sang along to at family sessions; in my granny’s house in Dublin. The album, for me, is the proverbial salmon returning home to the safety of deep rock pools where it was born. Living away from Ireland during this pandemic, the songs on this album brought Ireland home to me. They are a celebration of my ballad background, my family, and our culture.’


I said in the intro that Shane has a love for storytelling ballads. Well, the Irish balladeer steps forward right away in the opening song I like It When You Try. Lyrics like: ‘We can talk about anything, cars, and cigarettes, but you don’t smoke and I don’t drive’ are typical singer-songwriter lines. Sometimes observative, sometimes personal, sometimes tongue in cheek, and effortlessly shifting from one to the other with every well-placed word. Lyrics like: ‘Sitting here looking for someplace to find; a place in myself where I have peace of mind; looking at faces for places to see; the wind in my hair; the breeze blowing easy’ (Roll On The Wind) remind me of Neil Young and his ability to weave sentences together in exactly the same way as Shane does.
Lyrics were always important to Shane, but on Born From Tradition, they come to the foreground even more. That is because the well-arranged pop sound of the earlier records is broken down to a single acoustic guitar melody. A lone violin, mandolin, accordion, or recorder is carefully placed in the music as if they are delicately illustrating the lyrics.



By the time I reach the third song Reynardine it is clear Shane O’Fearghail’s voice is the main feature on Born From Tradition. His melancholic voice is smooth as silk with a slightly hoarse finish, extremely pleasant to the ear. Combine that with his charming Irish accent and a strong vibrato that he uses to perfection to enhance the melancholic, nostalgic feel of the songs and it is clear why I see his voice as the highlight of Born Of Tradition. The musical arrangements make his voice shine even more. The music is soft, gentle, delicate, and never overpowering the voice. Our Ilona called it the “perfect hammock music” and I could not agree more.

Reynardine is the first of the traditional songs Shane selected for Born From Tradition. It is a song about a werefox luring beautiful women to an unknown fate. This type of historic folk ballad fits perfectly with the material by Shane’s own hand. As do the touching lyrics of Green Fields Of France or the unofficial anthem of Dublin, the folk ballad Molly Malone, clear links to granny Olive and the Dublin she knew. Shane goes even deeper into his Irish heritage with the Gaelic songs Trasna Na Gcianta and Ná Bí Buartha, songs he wrote together with Róisín Ní Bhriain, a friend of his.



FINDING THE MAGIC WITHIN

Now I have to admit, listening to this album I went through three phases. At first, I fell in love with Shane’s voice. Head over heels actually. How could I not with these lovely songs oozing out of my speakers, filling ymy room with a soft blanket of soothing goodness. But after a while I found myself losing a bit of concentration. The songs, as beautiful as they all are individually, seemed to become one gentle sweet sound that lasted the whole album. I was missing a moment of contrast, like a song similar to Faerie Tree from his previous album, just to shake things up a bit.
But then came phase three (!), and with it the true magic of Born From Tradition.

As I started diving into the lyrics the time suddenly flew by. Gone was my wish for contrast. Reading the lyrics Shane wrote, looking up the history behind the traditional songs he chose, made me realize Born From Tradition sounds exactly as it should. Shane put every side of himself into this record. Not only his memories of granny Olive and her Dublin; but also his respect for his Irish heritage; his personal views on the crazy world around us. All of a sudden I did recognize the build-up of this record. Not a build-up in the music as I was expecting, no, it was there in the themes Shane selected.
The first songs I Like It When You Try and Roll On The Wind are melancholic love ballads as only the Irish can sing them, full of longing for a lost love and the green fields of home.
With Reynardine, Trasna Na Gcianta, The Green Fields Of France, Molly Malone, and Ná Bí Buartha Shane pays homage to his Irish heritage. On the last bit of the album, the socially critical singer-songwriter comes out. It starts with Anyway, arguably the most beautiful ballad on Born Of Tradition. Sharp, perfectly sung, eenunciating e-ve-ry single word. I can only describe it as singer-songwriter magic. The lyrics are so strong: ‘Seáni was a poor one; grew up on a steel spoon; looking for a way out…‘ ‘turns out he’s the lucky one; he’s not the friend of a pistol or the bullet from a gun…‘ These words make my arm hairs stand on end. The poignant guitar melody makes it even better. What a song. It is followed by another razor-sharp singer-songwriter gemstone: New England. The message in this song is even stronger than in Anyway. So strong even that it will go too far to discuss in this review, instead I’ll just leave a link here to a blog Shane wrote about this song.



The last song on Born From Tradition ends the album as if it was a movie score. Raglan Road is the perfect end score to Born From Tradition. An odd comparison I know, but I can’t find a better one to explain it. It is just the twisted way my musical mind works I guess.
All in all Born from Tradition is a beautiful album with many interesting layers. A singer-songwriters delight. And the good news is, there is more to come.
On Bandcamp Shane already released an EP called Acoustic. According to Shane: ‘A collection of acoustic demo’s from previous albums or songs that are coming down the tracks. As for a follow-up on Born from Tradition: -‘I will do a follow-up Irish album soon, with more songs and Irish ballads. But that is next year or the year after. For now, I am concentrating on a new album which will be an uptempo Irish Appalachian affair. Due for a summer release 2022.
Well, speaking for myself, I can’t wait!

Cliff

editor: Sara
Cover art: Sabine Mann | sabinemann.Design
Picture: Sabine Mann






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