As the cover makes clear Idir Muir Agus Sliabh is a collection of Irish traditional songs – there is a Scottish interloper but we’ll let that pass. Three songs are in English, the rest in Irish and Diane Ní Chanainn has eschewed the Celtic ambient style for something more earthy and real. Reknowned as a Sean-nós singer, she is here supported by a cast of musicians that money alone couldn’t buy. At the core is Manus Lunny, who also produced the album, Liam Bradley and James Blennerhasset. Then we have contributions from Donald Shaw, Neil Martin, Charlie McKerron and pipes, whistles and flute from Martin Crossin and Michael McGoldrick.
There’s everything from a lively drinking song, ‘Nil sé ‘na Lá’ to the lovely romantic ‘An Draighneán Donn’ and the regretful ‘Geaftaí Bhaíle Buí’ but even here the band combine to give what could be a wistful song an unexpected drive. Two of the songs in English are ‘Lough Erne’s Shore’ and ‘The Mountains Of Pomeroy’, both of which I heard for the first time last year. The latter is a variation on the Reynardine story, rather more complex than the common versions and also a marching band tune. The third is the immigrant ‘Broom O’ The Cowdenknowes’ which I’m always happy to listen to.
Idir Muir Agus Sliabh is a splendid, multi-faceted collection of songs which Diane, Manus and the supporting musicians have crafted into an album which is at once traditional and also geared to contemporary tastes. Don’t worry about the language problem; there isn’t one. The meaning and emotion of the words are delivered by the performance and the arrangements are superb, particularly Martin and Michael’s decorations.
Coast is a folk-rock band, with the emphasis on the rock, formed by Paul Eastham and Chris Barnes back in 2009. Windmills In The Sky is their third album and I hope it will be the one that propels them to greatness. They spent their childhoods on Benbecula in the western islands and their music reflects that edge-of-the-world wildness. If I tell you that they employ twin drums/percussion with mighty electric guitar from Finlay Wells you’ll immediately know where they are coming from. These are big, anthemic songs centred around the keyboards and orchestral programming of Eastham.
The album opens with ‘Is Sinn Na Tuinn Air Bhàrr A’ Chuain’, a delicate acoustic piece – for about forty seconds until the band kicks in to give us a sort of overture to what is awaiting. Three songs are firmly rooted in Western Scotland. The first, ‘River’, is a song of pure nostalgia for a Hebridean childhood while ‘Thundersnow’ and the title track give contrasting views of west coast life. The former is essentially the opinion of a fisherman wishing that he was somewhere warmer and drier while ‘Windmills In The Sky’ tells of the welcoming sights of home after a long voyage. The windmills are, of course, the turbines that I suppose are the first things that fishermen can see as they return to harbour.
Coast are no one-trick ponies, however, and other songs take a wider view. ‘No More Heroes’ looks back on 2016 and reflects the line from David Bowie’s song – he is one of the heroes who are no more – but it’s also about regaining control when those leaders are gone. ‘1884’ is the true story of murder and cannibalism that set a precedent in common law and ‘That Old Atlantic Sky’ is the extraordinary – but also true – of a German fighter pilot and the crew of an American bomber in 1943. ‘Let It Rain’ and ‘This Whole World’ are philosophical songs reflecting on the modern world.
The band makes a really big sound but also finds room for traditional instruments: Charlie McKerron’s fiddle, Lorne MacDougall’s pipes and whistles and the accordion of Sileas Sinclair. These are not over-used but serve to anchor Coast’s roots firmly in the Western Isles.
Featuring four world class fiddle players; Charlie McKerron, Gordon Gunn, Adam Sutherland and Kevin Henderson plus, for good measure Marc Clement (guitar), Brian McAlpine (piano and accordion) and percussionist David “Chimp” Robertson there’s no monkey-ing around with Session A9. The first track, McKerron’s “The Surfing Bride” is an attractive set-up with gentle piano introduction followed by solo fiddle before unleashing a glorious orchestra of fiddles washing over the listener like a musical spa before shifting up a gear into the key-alternating “Ruffus And Molly’s Wedding Polka” and the grand finale “One For Oliver”. For a bunch of musicians the other nice thing about the band is that they cover some excellent songs including Jackson Brown’s “These Days” featuring some country styled mandolin licks and the good -time “One For The Road” by the much missed John Martyn. In Clement (well, they can weather it) the group have a gifted lead vocalist and with all the members taking a stab at backing vocals they make an impressive wall of sound. This is the kind of recording where it sounds like all the members are having a blast playing together so be prepared to have your dancing shoes ready for some serious ceilidh swinging with a good time guaranteed . Nice one lads!