Ye Vagabonds’ Brían and Diarmuid Mac Gloinn.
By Daniel Neely
On Saturday, I spent the evening over at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall space to see the Gloaming, one of the greatest and most significant bands currently active in Irish music. Anchored by the legendary fiddler Martin Hayes, the band – which includes Iarla Ó Lionáird, vocals; Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, hardanger d’amore; Dennis Cahill, guitar; and Thomas Bartlett, piano – put on a show that left the audience buzzing.
The Gloaming’s music explores Irish sense and sensibility using traditional tunes, experimental sounds, rare songs, and poetry. The results can be cerebral and stirring one moment and witty and playful, the next, but it never loses sight of its rootedness in the tradition. This expressive range was on full display Saturday evening. The jigs and reels that form the bedrock of the band’s music were played at the highest, most engaging standard, and became the basis of sound improvisations and sonic explorations that brought to mind avant-garde art music and free jazz. It’s an approach that suits poetry in particular, as was clearly seen in how the Gloaming used Liam Ó Muirthile’s poetry in their work.
Earlier this year the Gloaming had sold out week-long residency at Dublin’s National Concert Hall. This Carnegie concert was put on as part of the important, multisite “Migrations” festival that started in February and continues through May. The focus of its programming involves three migratory moments, the immigration of people from Scotland and Ireland, the arrival of Jews from Russia and Eastern Europe, and finally, the movement of African Americans from the south to industrialized cities in the Northeast, Midwest, and West. Saturday’s was one of the festival’s biggest shows and was a spectacular evening. Here’s to more Irish music on the biggest of stages!
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Speaking of spectacular, I want to tell everyone about “The Hare’s Lament,” the really quite fantastic new album from singing duo Ye Vagabonds. The duo consists of Brían and Diarmuid Mac Gloinn, two brothers from Carlow, who sing in close harmony in English and Irish. They accompany themselves on the bouzouki, guitar, violin, and mandolin and have made a brilliant album that will absolutely delight Irish music fans whose tastes trend toward the folkier side of things.
Ye Vagabonds are part of a very interesting contemporary scene of singers that includes the likes of Lankum, the Murphy Beds, Lisa O’Neill, Daoirí Farrell, and others. Each of these artists plumb the depths of the traditional repertory and give the material they find contemporary relevance by realizing it creative and engaging ways. This is the territory of folks like Christy Moore, Mick Moloney, Andy Irvine, Cathy Jordan, and Karan Casey, but it’s an approach that also brings to mind the great Frank Harte, who was the inspiration for all these folks and who left an indelible mark on singing in Dublin.
Ye Vagabonds have certainly followed Harte’s spiritual lead here, in that they’ve collected fabulous material from compelling sources. For example, the lovely “Siún Ní Dhuibhir” came from an archive recording of their grandfather. (Interestingly enough, they never met their grandfather, and only learned of the recording when they stumbled upon it while working at the Irish Traditional Music Archive!) “Bacach Shíol Andaí,” “Dá mBeinn i mo Bhádóir,” and “Tuirse mo Chroí” were all taken from recordings of singer Róise na nAmhrán (1879-1964), who was from Arranmore Island in Donegal. (Arranmore Island also happens to be where Brían and Diarmuid’s mother was born.) Other songs here were picked up from friends in the folk scene along the way and given fresh, interesting treatment.
While all the tracks are great, a few stand out. “Tuirse mo Chroí,” which features the smallpiping of Brìghde Chaimbeul (www.brichaimbeul.com) is a jaunty tune with a cool vibe that is helped along some pizzicato string playing. On “On Yonder Hill,” the brothers starts out singing in unison and shift to close harmony with the introduction of the harmonium playing of Alain McFadden (All the Brave Hunters). It’s done with great sensitivity. Then there’s “Siún Ní Dhuibhir,” which has a gorgeous melody that is enhanced, again, with the duo’s keenly delicate approach to harmony.
Several of the songs here will be familiar to many listeners, but once again it’s the treatment that sets them apart. “The Foggy Dew” is beautifully delivered. “Willie O Winsbury,” which includes harmonium and features dramatic vocal harmonies, is a stand out. I particularly like the haunting, atmospheric slant they bring to “Seven Little Gypsies,” but perhaps the finest of this group of songs is the album’s title track, which features John Flynn (Skipper’s Alley, www.skippersalley.ie; he performs under the name “John Francis”) on tin whistles and ends with a Macedonian dance tune. It’s brilliant stuff.
“The Hare’s Lament” is an album for fans of beautifully delivered and intelligently curated songs. Some listeners will rightly hear shades of Sweeney’s Men and Planxty/Paul Brady & Andy Irvine in the music, but this is a group with its own organically-derived identity. The music they make is simply wonderful, and it reflects a very thoughtful and respectful approach to traditional song. Very highly recommended! To learn more, visit www.yevagabonds.com.