A sentence in string wizard Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh’s biography reads that he “continues to explore that region where Irish traditional music begins to disintegrate.” This description could apply equally well to the music of The Gloaming, a band that also has phrases like “all-star ensemble” and “Irish music super group” attached to it. Glowing terms like those tend to come up when you combine world-class people like fiddle master Martin Hayes, guitarist Dennis Cahill, Iarla Ó Lionaird (of Afro-Celt Sound System), and Thomas Bartlett (aka Doveman, who has recorded with Antony and the Johnsons, The National, and Sam Amidon, among others) with a young up-and-comer like Ó Raghallaigh and let them all make music together.
Good things result with a mix like that, and the new self-titled album by this powerhouse combination gives you a good dose of them.
Be warned, though: this isn’t your typical Celtic session of jigs and reels. Those are apparent, but the varied musical backgrounds and interests of this group produce equally varied results — which are sometimes only tangentially related to the Irish tradition. There is a disintegration of this music taking place, alright, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. What sounds like a prepared-piano ostinato in “The Old Bush” produces an unsettling but striking sonic bed that just makes you sit up and listen harder to its slowly-unfolding solo fiddle tune. Tracks like “Opening Set” (an interesting name-choice for Track 8 on the album) start off more straight-ahead, but the harmonies under these traditional fiddle tunes become more and more unconventional as the piece progresses, until there is something undeniably ominous about an otherwise innocuous melody.
But I’ll admit I’m a sucker for this kind of thing: the deconstruction of a traditional music that still honours the foundation of its history but that builds new houses on the existing framework. Is this the gentrification of folk music? You could argue that it is, perhaps, but at this point I think I’d rather hear music that uses pieces of the past to construct something new. It’s important for music to keep moving forward in time — crucial, even, for folk music especially — and also for those who make it to express their influences, as broad as they may be. The Gloaming does both in admirable ways. Maybe you’ll agree.
This video gives you a taste of The Gloaming’s musical hybrid, as well as an explanation of their philosophy — in lovely Irish accents.
Deconstructed Celtic music from an Irish-American supergroup.