I don’t believe that anyone has coined a term for the music that Blackbird & Crow play. I’d like to suggest “gothic folk-rock”. Other artists have ventured down this road but I’d also like to suggest that Maighréad Ní Ghrásta and Stephen John Doohan do it best. Ailm is their second album – the title refers to a letter of the Ogham alphabet that signifies conifer which, in turn, is associated with healing.
The search for healing is at the centre of the album which combines Irish folklore and history, blues, psychedelia and Americana with an overpowering sense of mystery. The songs are populated with lost and broken characters, some of whom have found their way out of the darkness, some of whom are defiantly still there. In the modern world I’m pretty sure that ‘Parting Rag’ is about Shane MacGowan while ‘Margaret The Martyr’ takes us back to the era of the navvies, telling the story from the point of view of a wife left behind.
Maighréad’s powerful voice revels in its Irishness as do her lyrics. Stephen is a multi-instrumentalist: various stringed instruments plus harmonium and synth. In support they have cello, drums, uilleann pipes, trumpet and saxophone but it is the extraordinary arrangements, which I’m sure are down to Stephen, that dominate the sound.
The first two tracks, ‘Harlot On Holy Hill’ and ‘The Witch That Could Not Be Burned’ run together and are firmly in the defiant camp. Everything, including Maighréad, is turned up to maximum and really rock you back on your heels. They are followed by the first of two covers, ‘Princess Of The Ditch’ by Kilkenny singer-songwriter Richie Healy. It’s a perfect match for Ailm. The other cover is Robbie Basho’s ‘Orphan’s Lament’.
There is so much power in this record and much beauty. There are some strange songs too: I’m still trying to work out ‘The Ways That I Can Make You Suffer’ but Ailm is already shaping up as one of my albums of the year.
Artists’ website: https://blackbirdandcrow.com/
‘The Witch That Could Not Be Burned’ – live: