CÒIG – Ashlar (own label)

AshlarCòig are a quartet from Cape Breton, eastern Canada. Ashlar , which would seem to be their fourth album was recorded in Nova Scotia. They play Celtic music but “Celtic” is a loose definition across the Atlantic and although the band do play some traditional music with Celtic origins they also write and borrow freely and so you’ll find the likes of Kate Rusby and Gordon Lightfoot mentioned in dispatches. Let’s introduce them: Chrissy Cowley plays fiddle, Rachel Davis sings and plays fiddle and viola, Jason Roach plays piano and Darren McMullen also sings lead and plays a total of nine instruments.

The opening track is ‘Time & Tide’, a set of two jigs and two reels, and is named after a fishing boat out of Margaree on the sheltered side of the island. The first thing that struck me was Jason’s delicate piano figure introducing the set. I’m not a great fan of the piano as a folk instrument but Jason could make me change my mind. The second track is a song, ‘Deep Down In The River’, sung by Rachel. It was written by Ashley Condon and David Francey and David’s name always makes me pay attention – we don’t hear enough of him in Britain.

‘Uncle Leo’s Jigs’ is a set of a jig and two slip-jigs and then comes ‘Farewell Trion’ which is described as an old-time tune. Forget any ideas of banjos and sawing fiddles; it’s not that kind of old-time; true there’s a fiddle and a banjo (not doing what you’d expect) but it’s a rich arrangement of a simple tune. ‘The Capable Wife’, sung by Darren, was borrowed from Rusby and it’s a fun song. ‘From The Old Tapes’ is a collection of tunes that Chrissy and Jason grew up learning; a variety of rhythms and sources including a trio of strathspeys and one from Cape Breton star, Brenda Stubbert.

There is a Gaelic song, ‘O Luaidh’, and a pair of reels with a delightful story behind them and then Lightfoot’s contribution, ‘Home From The Forest’, featuring Dave Gunning playing second guitar, the only guest appearance Còig need. It’s a beautiful song and one I’m ashamed to say I’d not heard before. Finally we have ‘Odds & Ends’ which lives up to its title as it includes a puirt à beul and a tune called ‘The Bush Administration’!

Ashlar is the first time I’ve heard Còig and I have to say that I’m very taken with them. This is Celtic music with a real difference.

Dai Jeffries

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Artists’ website: https://www.coig.ca/

‘From The Old Tapes’ – official video: