The Gloaming: The Gloaming 3 review – Visionary exploration of traditional music-making

Fri, Feb 15, 2019, 09:48

   
 

Album:
3

Artist:
The Gloaming

Label:
Real World Records

Genre:
Traditional

Choosing for their third studio album release a cover illustration titled Precipice might say something about The Gloaming’s state of mind. As with their two previous studio albums, the band have mined deep and aimed high.

Drawing themselves up to their full height as they’ve done in each of their previous recordings (most notably on their Live at the NCH album, released last year), the band continue to stretch and challenge themselves in both their tune choices and in Iarla Ó Lionáird’s song adaptations of contemporary and ancient poetry.

Space is at a premium, with Thomas Bartlett’s production ensuring that the songs get the room they need to breathe free. The deep, throaty Hardanger fiddle lines of Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh that introduce Bronwyn Leigh, (composed by Scottish fiddler, Ryan McKasson) strike a baroque tone, segueing beautifully into Patsy Geary’s and rising slowly but steadily to a haughty canter, with the pair of tunes resolving into the final, perfectly chosen tune, Doctor O’Neill.

The Gloaming. File photograph: Heidi Solander
The Gloaming: celebration of the byways and boreens that characterise that journey.  Photograph: Heidi Solander

The devil is in the detail of everything that The Gloaming does, and in this tune set, that clocks in at more than 10½ minutes, it’s in the circling piano that wraps its figures of eight around, through and beneath the set, underscoring Dennis Cahill’s characteristically subtle guitar so that the four instruments’ molecules merge as if they were in a Flann O’Brien novel.

Ó Lionáird’s focus for this album is unquestionably on the darker side, his affinity for ancient poetry finding full flight in My Lady Who Has Found The Tomb Unattended, his adaptation of a 17th-century poem by Eoghan Ruadh mac Uilliam Óig Mhic an Bháird. Fear and foreboding mark its entrance, Ó Lionáird choosing an initially confiding tone, with piano and fiddle inflating the space around that cavernous voice so that it fills every nook and finds shelter when needed in the darker corners of Bartlett’s bare-boned arrangements.

His adaptation of Áthas, a poem written by the late Liam Ó Muirthile, is an ode to the bittersweet riches in intimate moments of joy as life ebbs away. Ó Muirthile’s legacy is further celebrated in Meáchan Rudaí, a brave choice for the album’s opening track. Its almost grinding repetition of that key word “meáchan” or “weight” is supported initially by the barest of notes, Ó Muirthile’s cascading syllables anchored by Bartlett’s firm-footed piano, and Martin Hayes’s sinuous fiddle. Both are countered here and there by the wider, looser sound of Ó Raghallaigh’s Hardanger fiddle.

Seán Ó Riordáin’s poem, Reo, with additional lyrics from Ó Lionáird, is a further meditation on the fleeting quality of life, and here the symbiotic partnership that’s evolved between Bartlett and Ó Lionáird finds full expression: voice and piano revelling in one another’s company, with Hayes tiptoeing into the fray with some filigree fiddle that sits perfectly in the middle. The whole enterprise sounds like it’s been in the tradition forever, instead of having been conjured from words on the page of a poetry book.

There’s a certain feeling of time standing still on this album. The Gloaming have found their groove: that intersection where unapologetically traditional music-making sits so comfortably alongside the most visionary, forward-facing musical exploration.

It’s what we’ve blithely come to expect from the band, and this collection is a celebration of the byways and boreens that characterise that journey: where tunes lurk in whin bushes and songs insinuate themselves into the bloodstream. Another long player that’ll find fresh purchase with each return visit.