Two albums of Irish music: one excellent label (Raelach Records), and one superb musician in common (Jack Talty, concertina). These are busy times in contemporary Irish music – as, similarly across the globe, a wealth of new music is being created by musicians. Back in October 2010, The Irish Times speculated that we are in the midst of a Golden Age of Irish music, and it is hard to argue with the evidence. Musicians such as Daoirí Farrell, and Irish group Lankum, are just the tip of the iceberg of the volume of music emerging from Ireland.
The label Raelach Records, located in Clare, Ireland, takes a fascinating approach to their artists: carefully curated and presented, their albums feature an array of musicians who provide Irish music that has been extensively researched and meticulously performed. Labelmates include Jack Talty, and Noel Hill – two leading exponents of the concertina. Jack Talty's In Flow is an example of straight-ahead, no frills musicianship. Talty hails from County Clare, and his album is full of nods to his locale: for example, Talty provides alternative versions of “The Heathery Breeze” from the playing of Clare fiddler and concertina musician John Kelly (1912-87), and “Rakish Paddy” from Clare concertina player Tom Barry. Elsewhere, tunes are unearthed from the Dingle peninsula, Leitrim, County Kerry, and Dublin.
The sound of Talty's playing is wonderful, and he utilizes different concertinas that provide a varied sonority to the recording. Talty is ably assisted with the support of John Blake (guitar) and Ruairi McGorman (bouzouki). Talty's playing appears to effortlessly slide through its sets, and his control is amazing – at times, he manages to make some notes ring out stronger, almost like a trombone punctuating a tune. But apart from the technical surety on the reels and jigs, I found the slow airs to be captivating. Talty's reading of “Bóthar Cluain Meala,” based on a song wherein a man is propositioned by the vision of a female to leave his ill wife and children behind, is rendered with deep emotion. (The gent ultimately refuses the ghostly temptation.)
Imbas is Ensemble Ériu's second album, and the title is an Old Irish word describing creativity, inspiration, and prophetic knowledge. Talty is part of a larger group here, which features Jeremy Spencer (fiddle), Matthew Berrill (clarinets), Patrick Groenland (guitar), Neil O'Loghlen (double bass, flute), Maeve O'Hara (marimba), and Matthew Jacobson (drums). Each of the tracks on Imbas has a pedigree, collected by musicians and researchers from around Ireland. In Ensemble Ériu's hands, the source material is transformed into works which sound as if they were composed by the minimalist school of John Adams, Terry Riley, and Philip Glass. Opener “The Tempest,” with its stuttering, repetitive beats, makes the connection clear before the Ensemble swings into flight. In part, the sound of O'Hara's marimba provides a recognizable pulse associated with this strain of modern music; but on the whole, the influences range into modern jazz and post-rock, and the borders between chamber and folk musics is effectively diminished. Imbas is an exciting, accessible, and foot-tapping release. The set of “The Humours of Drinagh/The Humours of Kilclogher/ Goideadh Do Ghé” is a prime example of Ensemble Ériu's influences and compositional arrangement coming to the fore, while the chugging end to “The West Clare Reel” would not have been foreign to Laughing Stock-era Talk Talk.
In short, both of these albums are not to be missed by listeners who enjoy Irish music as a living, breathing art-form that both challenges and delights. In Flow and Imbas shine like gold. – Lee Blackstone
Find the artists online:
Ensemble Ériu : www.ensembleeriu.com
Jack Talty : www.jacktalty.com