Lankum pictured before a performance at Berlin on New York’s Lower East Side in October. PHOTO BY PETER MCDERMOTT
By Daniel Neely
Award-winning Dublin ballad group Lankum played at New York City’s Mercury Lounge last week, and I had a lovely time checking them out. The band, which had encountered visa issues that required the cancellation of a few gigs prior to their New York show (a circumstance that is far too common these days), had arrived in that day and were experiencing severe jet lag, but performed stoically, with fortitude, to a packed and very appreciative crowd of young New Yorkers.
They opened their set with their unique and popular take on “The Wild Rover.” The crowd loved it, and it was almost as well received as “The Young People,” Daragh Lynch’s look at the issue of suicide. It was the set’s second song and it elicited an extremely enthusiastic audience response. Over the course of the hour and a half (or so) set, they ran through a number of new and old songs, including “Henry, My Son,” “Katie Cruel,” and “Hunting the Wren,” all of which were enjoyable. Radie Peat closed the show leading “The Old Man from Over the Sea,” much to the crowd’s delight. Aside from their music, what I enjoyed most was seeing how successful the group is in bringing new listeners in to the Irish music fold. They speak hope to the young and disenfranchised in a way that both draws from tradition and confounds it.
The next day the band were on their way to Washington DC to record a “Tiny Desk Concert” for NPR, which promises to be excellent. There definitely needs to be better Irish traditional representation at these Tiny Desk Concerts, and it’s fantastic that Lankum’s been tapped to represent. (But wouldn’t a slot with a legendary group like Lúnasa – who are currently tour with Natalie Merchant – be great there as well?) Give Lankum a look if they come to your town – their shows make for a hip night out. You can find their tour dates at lankumdublin.com.
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In other news, on Wednesday award winning singer Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh released “Thar toinn/Seaborne,” a short, six track album featuring beautifully rendered songs each containing some theme or reference to the sea. The results are stunning, as you might expect if you know Nic Amhlaoibh’s music, and it’s definitely worth checking out.
Nic Amhlaoibh’s been busy since the 2018 release of “Foxglove and Fuscia,” an album that included “Bean Dubh A’ Ghleanna,” which won “Best Traditional Folk Track” at that year’s RTÉ Radio 1 Folk Awards. Over that time she’s been involved in numerous collaborations with folks in the traditional, classical, and electronica worlds, has been an active radio and television presenter, and been an advocate for gender balance in traditional music. Despite all this, she was able to find time for this new project, the result of her passionate interest in the sea, and the cultural connections therein.
The album opens with the stunningly beautiful and very touching “Faoiseamh Faoistine.” Written by Domhnall Mac Síthigh, who passed away in 2017 when the naomhóg he was in with Liam Ó Maonlaí, Breanndán Ó Beaglaoich, and Padraig Ua Duinnín capsized off the coast of Spain, the song is not simply an appeal for listeners to connect and find solace in the land and sea (per the lyrics) but a poignant remembrance of a friend. The music here was composed by Gerry O’Beirne, whose thoughtful approach (along with that of Dónal O’Connor, who also appears on the track) enhances the song’s meaning and allows Nic Amhlaoibh’s voice to express the sentiment here more fully.
Another of the album’s exceptional tracks is” “Tá Na Báid Go Doimhin Sa Bhfarraige, Síos Cois Na Trá Agus Amach Chun Na Farraige.” Set to the tune of “Lannigan’s Ball,” it’s a Kerry song that wishes a fisherman luck and good fortune. Again, Nic Amhlaoibh shines, but this time enhanced by etherial whistles and background vocals add an almost otherworldly element that is interrupted with a jig that closes out the track, on which the great Séamus Begley joins.
The album’s final track “Port Na bPúcaí” is similarly breathtaking. The tune itself comes from the Blasket Islands, and is sometimes said to have supernatural conneciton. Featuring Nic Amhlaoibh’s husband Billy Mag Fhloinn (tradition.ie) playing the Yaybahar, an otherworldly-sounding instrument designed by Turkish musician Gorkem Sen, the instrument makes an entirely mysterious sound that resonates with the lore surrounding the song and complements Nic Amhlaoibh’s singing nicely. The results are incredible.
If you’re a fan of gorgeous singing, Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh’s “Thar toinn/Seaborne” is a must-have. Six tracks may seem like it offers a limited opportunity to explore a theme like the sea, but the ground covered here is impressive. Nic Amhlaoibh’s does an engaging job and it’ll delight listeners. This is an album that is easy to be taken in by – highly recommended. Learn more at www.muireann.ie.