LANKUM – The Livelong Day (Rough Trade)

The Livelong DayComprising brothers Ian (Uilleann pipes, concertina) and Daragh (guitar, piano) Lynch, Cormac MacDiarmada (fiddle, viola, banjo, double bass) and Radie Peat (bayan, harp, keyboards), the Dublin quartet’s third album, The Livelong Day, continues to both mine and reinvigorate traditional Irish tunes, breathing new life into songs that might often seem to be exhausted.

Case in point is the opening number, a full ten minute reworking of ‘The Wild Rover’ that, a far cry from the usual rowdy pub singalong, is taken at a dirge-like pace with drone backing and Peat singing the verses in a version learned from the singing of Dónal Maguire by way of Pat Usher that, gathering in sonic power towards the end, restores the rather more downbeat final verse from the 17th century concerning Irish poverty.

There’s two originals here, the first up being ‘Young People’, which, set to a simple strummed acoustic guitar interspersed with darker instrumental clouds, is a reflective sway that talks of someone with mental health issues who has committed suicide (“Found them swinging / Four long years ago… his tongue was tasting the morning”), but offsets this mournful tragic tone with an underlying message about appreciating your friends and showing them you care.

The other self-penned track is the album closer ‘Hunting The Wren’, a pulsing intro and hollow drum fills setting the ground for a funeral march number resulting from a challenge giving to Ian to write a song based around the Wrens of Curragh, an outcast Irish community of prostitutes, vagrants, unmarried mothers, free-thinkers, alcoholics, ex-convicts and harvest workers who lived in furze ‘nests’ on the harsh plains of Curragh in County Kildare, the wren being an Irish folklore symbol of those who were tyrannised.

Returning to the traditional material, the shortest track, at just under five minutes, is ‘Ode To Lullaby’, a spare, brooding instrumental combining two American folk tunes that opens with baritone concertina and violin harmonics and, with almost bell-like effects at the end, serves as a bridge to ‘Bear Creek’, another instrumental, this time the opening drone giving way to a lively fiddle-led jig with old time American shadings.

They return to the ballad tradition with Peat again taking lead on a nine-minute ‘Katie Cruel’, it too transformed into a slow dirge, an American ballad with likely Scottish origins about a woman once much courted and now spurned, best known through the recording by Katy Dalton and which interpolates the line “I know where I’m going/And I know who’s going with me”.

The mood lightens slightly, even if the pace only marginally, for ‘The Dark Eyed Gypsy’ with its wheezing harmonium, male harmonies and late arriving pipes, the remaining number being the second shortest at four second shy of five minutes, ‘The Pride of Petravore’, once more stripping away any semblance of the original exuberance and joy to reconstruct it as an ominous instrumental as the pulsing drone gathers speed to a train wheels rhythm, a spooked tin whistle joins the flurry and the whole thing clatters to a fade.

Lankum take the body parts of traditional folk music and reconstruct them into experimental and often unsettling new shapes as earthy as the image on the album cover, like sorcerers transmuting light into a powerful, foreboding and yet somehow exhilarating darkness.

Mike Davies

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‘The Young People’ – official video: