Words by Tim Cumming
They’ve gone once more a-roaming
When they recorded their first album, the American-Irish supergroup had no idea it would be so successful. Their five-night string of concerts at Dublin’s National Concert Hall for the launch of their second album quickly sold out; the plaudits have come thick and fast; and there was a high sense of anticipation. It delivers in full. What fiddler Martin Hayes, viola player Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, sean nós singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, pianist Thomas Bartlett and guitarist Dennis Cahill have done with their repertoire is remove the clichés, clear away the clutter, distil the essence, and layer and weave the folk sources with contemporary classical and experimental art music. They make sounds to sit down to, not to clap and shout along with.
The developments are subtle but important. There are fewer of the dissonances and undertones of Ó Raghallaigh’s Hardanger-viola d’amore hybrid instrument; he works more closely in tandem with Hayes. And Bartlett’s minimal piano and Cahill’s punctuating guitar come more to the fore in terms of shaping and guiding the songs. Hayes’ playing is superb and, crucially, closely bound to the work of the ensemble, which has at its command entire musical landscapes. You sense these are great musicians but also great listeners in the moment of that music’s making. Every track absorbs the attention of each repeated listen, giving more back each time. The group knew they had a mark to step up to and they’ve surpassed themselves.