Music fans get the ‘jolk’

Mongoose on stage.

By Colleen Taylor

This week, I’ve been enjoying the “jolks” of a mongoose—and that’s a sentence only partly punned. The young Dublin-based, all-female, alt-folk group called Mongoose define what they do as “jolk”—half jazz, half folk. As it turns out, Mongoose also have a few regular jokes up their sleeves as well. Their debut, self-titled album is light, lively, and rather witty at moments. It is, like the band itself, fresh, young, and bright.

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The young 20-somethings Molly O' Mahony, Ailbhe Dunne, Muireann Ní Cheannabháin and Cara Dunne have been together for a few years, but they just released their first full album last year. At the close of 2015, The Irish Times listed “Mongoose” as one of the most popular debut albums of the year. For such a relatively new band, Mongoose have already established a distinctive, trademark sound. I can’t quite pin them in a genre, so perhaps it’s fitting they’ve coined one of their own. Their harmonies are airy and smoky simultaneously—their sounds acoustic and weightless while also holding onto something of a soulful weight. There’s a particularly Irish flare to their vocals as well. They give all of their melodies an audible brogue.

What distinguishes this group for me is their wordplay. One of my favorites off their album, “Woman on the Beat,” is lively, upbeat rhetorical reverie. Here are some lines from the track: “Tip top, hip hop, I don’t give a flip flop” and “Wish wash, splish splosh, don’t you know it’s pish posh?” That is just a small sampling of all the syntactic buoyancy the album has to offer. “Featherkisses” showcases another silly, ironic set of lyrics. But the album has a softer side as well: “Two Birds,” for instance, is a beautiful original folk ballad. In fact, “Two Birds” demonstrates this band is about more than just a laugh—they clearly have skill as composers, performers, and harmonizers. “Two Birds” offers an exquisite polyphony of a wide range of folk instruments (bass, moracas, guitar, cello) and a gorgeous women’s chorus. Finally, their “Goodbye Song,” the final track on the album, draws on an Irish folk tradition comparable to the “Parting Glass.” The group’s modern take on the Irish farewell ballad deserves a round of applause. “Goodbye Song” evokes that quintessential and beautiful Irish folk melancholia. Still, at the end of the day, Mongoose clearly have great craic playing their music.

The band’s good sense of humor shines throughout their whole persona. They’ve put out some hilarious band photos—parodies of iconic images like the characters of “Little Women” singing Christmas carols and the “Abbey Road” cover, among others. If you like what you hear, definitely worth a Google search as well. You’ll see their image matches their cheeky tunes.

I admire Mongoose for not taking themselves too seriously, for embracing their youth and humor, but also for being a great all-female folk band. There’s still too few women’s folk bands getting recognition in the music scene, and Mongoose are working to make a name for themselves in Ireland. They have a musical vision the music business can benefit from. Give them a listen. It will bring a smile to your face, not to mention a joke/jolk.

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Colleen Taylor writes the Music Notes column each week in the Irish Echo.