When you read of the “hottest new band on the scene” you tend to roll your eyes and translate the accolade into “over-egged, fly-by-night, bratpack”. But how wrong I was about this one. The creative storm that is Connla demands attention. Young, vibrant, energised, yes – but more than that, they’re firmly grounded in the Northern Irish tradition and each of the five musicians comes with a stamp of authority that includes All Ireland Champion flute (Ciaran Carlin) and Uilleann pipes (Conor Mallon) and tutor at the prestigious Armagh Pipers Club (Emmer Mallon). You’re left in no doubt that these musicians are here to stay.
The diversity of sounds, textures and arrangements held my attention throughout, including the hallmark driving flute which, though mellow, pushed the rhythm through the tiniest of holes. The contrasting break comes from the soulful and beguiling vocals of Ciara McCafferty. I particularly enjoyed her rendition of ‘Julie’. Rhiannon Giddens’ edgy song that imagines a riposte from a slave to her mistress in the American Civil War. Which brings me to the one criticism I have – why doesn’t the sleeve contain any information or lyrics? With CDs now in demise, please indulge us in the last vestiges of tactile joy – a small informative booklet.
Although the fast-paced Irish singularity is never far from the surface, Connla are not afraid to borrow from other traditions. ‘Mighty Makena’s’, for instance, is tinged with jazz swings reminiscent of Moving Hearts, while ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ manages to capture the hallmark plaintive yearning of the traditional American gospel song. In the week that we learned of the passing of Liam O’Flynn it was apposite to hear Conor Mallon leading the next generation of Uilleann pipe players. His spine-tingling entry on ‘One Starry Night’ is one of many moments to treasure.
For me the litmus test of a newly discovered artist is whether I’d go to see them live. Connla somehow manages to capture the vigour of a live performance in a studio recording that left me wanting more. So my answer is, quite simply, yes.
Artists’ website: https://connlamusic.com/
‘Julie’ – live: