By Earle Hitchner
TÓG É GO BOG É, by Kíla, Green Linnet Records GL 3128.
Afro Celt Sound System, the Eileen Ivers Band, Sin é (a UK-based Irish band with an Afro Celt sound), "Dublin to Dakar" (Putumayo’s 1999 cross-cultural compilation): these are all signs of an apparent market shift in Celtic music to some form of fusion.
Add to that list Kíla, a septet based in Dublin whose sound is described as "tribal-Celtic." Together now for nearly 11 years, the band evinces an art-school penchant for mixing sounds in sometimes intriguing, sometimes chaotic ways. Their 1995 album, the self-issued "Mind the Gap," provided a loose–some might say too loose–template upon which the group has since built on "Tóg é Go Bog é" ("Take It Easy"), a 1997 release on Dublin’s Key Records that Green Linnet has recently made available stateside.
In Ireland, the album went gold, with the single "Ón Taobh Tuathail Amach" ("From the Inside Out") reaching No. 18 on the pop charts there. A blend of African drums, sax, trumpet, clarinet, bass guitar, and accordion, it sounds like a song Paul Simon would have concocted during his "Graceland" phase — if he could sing in Irish.
The influence of rhythmic South African vocal harmony, perhaps best embodied globally by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, can be heard quite clearly in "Leanfaidh Mé" ("I’ll Keep Going"), while Irish, African, and pop-rock threads are woven into "Double Knuckle Shuffle."
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There are mood pieces here that start engagingly but then become attenuated through iteration and length, such as "Ríl a Dó" (6:45) and "Jasmine" (6:49). The latter recalls the expansive, if noodly, jazz-based instrumental work of Moving Hearts and Breton guitarist Dan Ar Bras.
Lead singer Rónán Ó Snodaigh has an expressive but limited voice that cannot mask the inane lyrics of his "Tip Toe," the album’s lone song in English. Lines like "Our shadows are still out on the street, My skin still as white as a sheet, Our time is short and fleet, Empty pockets trick or treat, We all need food to eat" seem cobbled from a rhyming dictionary.
Where this album shines is on "Rusty Nails," a three-part track that begins slowly with a Greek-flavored rhythm, kicks into a propulsive blast of Irish fiddle and flute, then reverts to its Greek beginnings. Kíla’s use of dynamics there is captivating, as it is in "Dusty Wine Bottle," where guest Breda Mayock joins Dee Armstrong on some skillfully interlaced fiddling later boosted by pipes, bass guitar, cymbals, and trumpet.
Another praiseworthy track is "The Siege of Carrickfinn International Airport," a two-tune solo showcase for uilleann piper Eoin Dillon, who displays a fine, even mischievous, grasp of ornamentation in the second melody especially.
An audacious, adventurous Irish band blissfully unafraid to experiment, Kíla will certainly get your pulse and feet moving to rhythms Irish and otherwise. They are the direct opposite of a staid group such as Patrick Street. The sum of Kíla is far superior to their parts. Unlike Patrick Street, there are no towering virtuosos here — just competent, free-thinking musicians who enjoy upending the pail of what’s familiar and possible.