Thursday, March 29, 2018

Review of The Gloaming's "Live at the NCH"

I posted this review on the Sputnik Music website a few hours ago:

Review Summary: Delicate and beautiful traditional Irish folk music

The Gloaming are an Irish classical folk band. This album was taped from live performances at the National Concert Hall (NCH) in Dublin. It's the band's third album, following upon two studio albums: Their self-titled debut (2014), and a follow-up LP, simply titled 2 (2016). All six of the songs recorded here were previously recorded on one or the other of the band's two studio albums.

The music here is sparse and exquisite. There is almost no percussion, and half of the tracks are instrumentals. When there are vocals, they're mostly (but not all) sung in Gaelic. The songs are generally slow to mid-tempo, with the exception of the third track, "The Sailor's Bonnet", which starts out with some leisurely piano and fiddling, then gradually builds to a fevered pitch. and the fifth track, "The Rolling Wave", which is similarly structured. Some of the songs mix in vague elements of jazz -- for example, the last track, "Fainleog" (which translates to "Wanderer") is a little discordant in parts, although never so much that it becomes strident. For the most part, though, what you have here is traditional Celtic folk music, but with a twist -- the best way I can describe it is it sounds like genuine Irish folk, as opposed to the stuff they sometimes serve up to the tourists.

The band members are an interesting lot. Iarla O' Lionaird (who is male, by the way) has a voice that is high and sweet. He comes from West Cork, and outside of The Gloaming, he's a well-respected practitioner of "sean-nos" singing -- a rich, emotional style of a capella singing famous in his home region. There are two fiddlers, Caoimhin O Raghallaigh and Martin Hayes. The first plays a specialized instrument called a Hardanger d'Amore, which is a mix between a Norwegian Hardanger fiddle and a viola d'amore. He's also a bit of a minimalist. The second comes from County Clare, where he learned a more traditional style of fiddling that tends to be slow and wistful. They're joined by Thomas Bartlett, an American pianist who has worked with artists such as Sufjan Stevens, The National and Nico Muhly; and Dennis Cahill, an American guitarist who specializes in Irish traditional music. 

Since their first sold out show at the NCH in 2011, The Gloaming have been granted an annual residency in this storied classical music hall. This album makes it clear why that is. With music that is both delicate and beautiful, I recommend Live at the NCH highly. It's a must-have for all fans of classical Irish folk music.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars