“…And Take The Black Worm With Me” creatively pushes well beyond the usual trad sensibilities.

Catalog reveals Begley's genius

Folks, with the news of Seamus Begley’s recent death I took time this past week to go back through his catalog and listen to some of his older work.  The album I spent the most time with was his 1973 debut “An Ciarraíoche Mallaithe,” made with his sister Máire.  If you’re interested in hearing some gorgeous music, I highly recommend you check it out, especially since it is so easily available to listen to at the moment on streaming services like Spotify and to purchase through iTunes.

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 The music on this album is just superb.  It is raw, emotive, and is the sort that really reveals the depths of Begley’s genius (as well as that of his sister) at an early stage in his life.  The box playing is lovely but the singing is really something else.  Standout tracks for me include “Bó Na Leath-Adhairce” “Bheadh Buachallaín Deas ag Síle,” and “An Ciarraíoch Mallaithe” (it’s included as an air and a song; both are great but I’m thinking of the song), but your mileage may vary.  I definitely recommend having a listen, though, because it’s some mighty music and it’s right there for the listening.

What I have in the media player right now is “…And Take The Black Worm With Me” from One Leg One Eye, a project led by Ian Lynch of the band Lankum.  Although coming from the direction of traditional music and song, this album pushes that sensibility far beyond normative boundaries.  This is not easy music.  But what Lynch has done has attracted great attention outside of traditional music community and rightly so, because this is a brilliant, challenging album that Echo readers should know about.

Many will recognize Lynch’s name both from his award winning band Lankum and from his absorbing “Fire Draw Near” podcast, both of which I’ve written about here.  This album is very much in line with the creative sensibility he brings to both of those projects, although with “Black Worm” he’s able to explore the nuances of his own vision more fully.  The sounds Lynch is responsible for here include “found sounds” and tape loops as well as the hurdy gurdy, uilleann pipe, synth, sruti box, concertina, and guitar playing.  The other “guilty parties” (as he puts it in the album’s liner notes) involved in this album’s creation are Ruth Clinton (church organ) and Laurie Shanaman (vocals).

 Lynch’s uncommon musical ear ensures the music here is far from the pure drop.  If you follow him on social media or listen to his podcast, you’d know that he’s no stranger to, say, conversations about black metal and musique concrète.  You’d also know that Lynch also has some interesting academic credentials as well: he pursued a master’s degree in folklore, has lectured in UCD’s Department of Irish, Celtic Studies and Folklore, and also worked at Dublin’s Irish Traditional Music Archive. It’s a lot to reign in.

 The album includes five songs, “Glistening, She Emerges,” “Bold and Undaunted Youth,” “I'd Rather Be Tending My Sheep,” “The Fancy Cannot Cheat So Well,” and 

“Only the Diceys.”  Of these, only two “Bold and Undaunted Youth” and “I'd Rather Be Tending My Sheep,” are based on traditional songs.  Lynch wrote the remaining three, “Diceys,” a song with the trappings of something more traditional, and the others a pair of bold pieces without words that are almost layered expressions of madness.

 “Glistening, She Emerges” is one of these two bold pieces.  A work in pure sound, it is richly layered, grand in scope, loud, and its mood shifts gradually around a drone.  It’s a fascinating, suspenseful track built off a kind of trembling anticipation fit for a horror movie.  This suggestion makes sense, as the video made for it was directed by Lukas Feigelfeld, perhaps best known for the 2017 folk-horror film “Hagazussa: A Heathen's Curse.”  Not a lot that’s particularly strange in the video, though!

 The same cannot be said for the video for “Only the Diceys,” perhaps the album’s most intriguing track and the only other (thus far) with a video.  In it, Irish director Paul Duane has captured Lynch’s flair for story telling in song and brought it to life through uncanny imagery.  It makes a good fit.  But video aside, Lynch has written a beautiful song, in some ways reminiscent of the material on Lankum’s first album.  A big, bold electric guitar carries his vocals and it’s harmony in a hauntingly beautiful way. 

 I also like “Bold and Undaunted Youth” and although it is very much it’s own thing, I find it reminiscent of Lankum’s more recent work.  Lynch's phrasing is, as usual, very well done and it could carry itself as sean nós in isolation. But the textures in which the vocals are nested (perhaps the signature of engineer John “Spud” Murray, who has worked with Lankum on almost all of the band’s albums?) give it the sort of far off, disorienting profile with which Lankum fans have become familiar.

 Incidentally, readers might be interested to know that Lynch was in the US in October to gave a string of multi-media performance/presentations about Child Ballads, and while the tour included well-attended stops at academic institutions such as Notre Dame, Johns Hopkins, and Villanova, it did not include a stop in NYC – a real missed opportunity for fans of Lynch’s and of Irish music research in general!

 For many listeners, “…And Take The Black Worm With Me” will be a far from comfortable listen.  This is an album built on music that came before, music that Lynch has made and music that’s inspired him.  It’s also music born out of experience and reflects the range of societal pressures that folks today encounter.  If this music is hard to listen to, it might not be for the reasons that you think – there’s a brilliance at work here and it’s worth exploring.  Definitely one to check out, especially if you’re interested in modern sounds.  “…And Take The Black Worm With Me”  is available as a download, on vinyl, and on limited edition cassette from https://nyahhrecords.bandcamp.com/.