MOLLY DONNERY AND THE CIDERHOUSE REBELLION – A Little Bit Slanted (Under the Eaves – UTE 009)

A Little Bit SlantedYou might have noticed that the masters of folk improvisation, The Ciderhouse Rebellion, are embarked on a series of collaborations with leading singers on the folk scene, called Cider With… At the time of writing, the duo are on tour with Kirsty Merryn, as Cider with Kirsty. A Little Bit Slanted is part of another of these collaborations, Cider with Molly, featuring award winning Irish singer Molly Donnery. This one isn’t really a new collaboration though, because fiddler Adam Summerhays and accordionist Murray Grainger – who make up The Ciderhouse Rebellion – are also members of The Haar, whose lead singer is the same Molly Donnery. This could have been branded as a trio from The Haar, but what matters is that this album holds such promise. Anyone who has listened to Molly’s shining vocal talents, heard The Ciderhouse Rebellion’s unique approach to folk music and wonderful musicianship, and knows how well they already work together would surely by filled with eager anticipation for this album. I’m happy to report that, for me at least, it doesn’t disappoint.

The idea behind A Little Bit Slanted came in a late-night conversation while touring with The Haar. On this album Molly revisits some of the songs she sang while developing her craft as a singer, before going on to win the All-Ireland Scor na nOg. And a very enjoyable selection they are, covering many of the universal themes found in folk music. There is love, loss, regret, separation, the deep pull of home, and a good dose of humour too.

A Little Bit Slanted opens with a classic Irish song, ‘Mo Buachiaillin Donn’ (‘My Brown-Haired Boy’). This beautiful love song – sung here in English – tells of a girl from a wealthy family, whose father has many suitors in mind for her. Of course, she loves another. A boy who she idolises, and imagines is descended from mythical kings of ancient times. For the atmospheric opening Murray’s accordion plays a drone like bass line, over which Adam plays a gentle melody. When Molly’s soaring vocals arrive, they are beautifully complemented by the gentle and unobtrusive accompaniment.

Given its title, ‘An Spealadoir’ (‘Depression’) has a surprisingly bright and breezy tune. It’s a nice track, well sung – in Gaelic – and with fine instrumentation. The tune though, does strike me as strangely cheerful for a song in which the narrator is spent, exhausted, and unable to maintain their land.

A similar point could be made about ‘Little Jimmy Murphy.’ It’s got a jaunty tune and a challenging chorus in which three lines are sung without a pause for breath. A fun song, with lyrics that don’t make much sense, but there’s a strangeness about it. A quick bit of background reading suggests that it might have more serious origins, relating to the uprising of 1798, and that more than one version exists. This song is an interesting subject in itself, but the album continues with two fine love songs.

‘The Kilmacthomas Girl’ opens with Molly singing unaccompanied, as a delightfully rhythmic and lilting tune develops. The narrator tells of his yearning devotion to the girl of the title. in fact, the poor lad has got it so bad that he can’t hold a job and considers joining a monastery if she refuses him. Beautifully sung and played, as the track draws to a close, the tempo slows and a softer, dreamier feel takes over. These changes of tempo feature on several tracks here and add to the beauty and emotional impact of the songs.

The narrator in ‘The Cabin With The Roses Round The Door,’ is looking back on life with his wife who sits beside him; ‘She’s an old and wrinkled dame, but I love her just the same, As the sunny day she came to be my bride.’

As their lives draw to a close, they reflect on the past, their children who’ve left for cities, and the child they lost; ‘the dear little one that’s gone before.’ It’s an undeniably sentimental song, but a genuinely affecting one, with its bittersweet mood nicely reflected by the sympathetic vocals and arrangement. Then, as the lyrics end, the pace increases and we go into a terrific instrumental sequence, with Adam properly living up the nickname that some have given him, The Paganini of Folk! A lovely track.

Another song of reflection follows. ‘Where The Mulcair Rivers Flows,’ has a narrator looking back on the landscape of his youth. From the gentle fiddle opening, a dreamy and wistful tune develops that nicely evokes the flow of a river, but all with a hint of melancholy and regret for times long gone. Molly learned this song from the late Nora Butler, to whom she dedicated this version.

The mood changes for the riotous ‘Murphy’s Running Dog,’ with its tale of an unsuccessful gambler whose hopes are bound to a greyhound that’s fast, but easily distracted from the business of winning races. It has an infectious, toe tapping tune, helped by Murray’s stomp box, and heartily sung by Molly.

The haunting fiddle opening of the next track, heralds another mood change. ‘A Stor Mo Chroi’ (‘The Treasure of my Heart’) is a sad song of separation and exile. The lyrics give voice to one whose love is leaving their home and the one who loves them, to seek material wealth in foreign lands. This is a beautiful song on which Molly’s haunting vocals are complimented by sensitively low-key accompaniment.

The roles are reversed on ‘My Father’s Cabin Small,’ as an exile looks back fondly on a childhood home, full of music and hospitality; ‘Sure, the table is set, the tae is wet, there’s current cake galore.’ It’s got a lively tune, with an infectious rhythm, helped again by the stomp box. But a sense of melancholy and regret is present throughout.

That can’t be said of the final track. ‘The Town Of Ballybay’ is a fun song, with a nice refrain. It tells the story of a comical – and comically violent – character, who uses her wooden leg as a makeshift fiddle. It’s a joyful bit of foolishness, and an appropriate end to a very enjoyable album.

In keeping with The Ciderhouse Rebellions ethos of spontaneity, the tracks on this album were recorded in single takes. Throughout, the musicianship is top class, while the imaginative and sensitive arrangements enhance the beauty of the songs. Molly’s vocals faultlessly evoke a range of emotions, and her deep connection with the material shines through. A Little Bit Slanted is part of what they’ve called ‘a glorious triple whammy,’ the simultaneous release of three new albums. I don’t know the thinking behind this, or if it’s a good commercial move, but if they’re all as good as this, we won’t be short of great music to enjoy this summer.

Graham Brown

Artists’ website:  The Ciderhouse Rebellion – Profound and eloquent, epic and haunting, wild, dramatic and occasionally unhinged

‘Mo Buachiaillin Donn’ – live:


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