Cua’s Oh Sun Shine Down is (to quote the great band Horslips!) “a warm sweet breath” of modern Irish folk music. And it conjures the very same magic as Clannad’s second album, purchased “by chance it was”, which was my first foray into Irish folk music. Horslips followed; then Planxty, The Bothy Band, Tri Na nÓg, The Wolfe Tones, De Dannan, The Chieftains, and Patrick Street all followed suit. I even found an import copy of In Tua Nua’s Vaudeville and Scullion’s Balance And Control (produced by John Martyn!) in some sort of reduced price bin in a mall record store.
After all of that, you’d think there would nothing new to be found under the watchful eye of Lugh, the Celtic god of the sun.
Well, to (sort of) cite the very American idiom supposedly asked by a young baseball fan to “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, I can counter that sad history and, this time, simply say, like any good folk song, “It ain’t so”.
Indeed, Cua’s album doesn’t really sound like any of these records. But they are an Irish band that plays with that, as said, very same magic that still cares about that epic Cattle Raid of Cooley. Yeah, these guys are just a bunch of (in their very own way) brand new Dancehall Sweethearts.
The first two songs have the joyous vocal comradery of the traditional Wolfe Tones fused with the modern pulse of The Saw Doctors. All three players, John Davidson, Shane Booth, and Ros O’Meara sing in melodic unison. And a fiddle and a bouzouki bend in sympathy with the beauty of the breezy tune, ‘Oh Sun Shine Down’. And ‘Sunrise’ is even more poignant, with vocal harmony and an acoustic guitar fiddled hoedown barn dance that, once again, conjures the best of traditional music.
But then – odd: ‘The Guiser’s Fancy’ is an instrumental quick step, with dramatic Baltic and world music punctuation. And it conjures the spirit of (the great) Shooglenifty on their Real World Live At Selwyn Hall, Box album.
Then – even more odd: ‘Beautiful’ touches a reggae pulse, with yet another folky world music breeze, framed in fiddle and (an almost) intensely human Christy Moore patient vocal that can still sing about those “Cliffs Of Dooneen”. It’s an odd pretzel with a rather lovely twist.
That delightful world tributary is followed by the instrumental, ‘Come On You And Shine’, which captures an almost classical vibe in its stringed dexterity (fiddle and guitar) and a quiet percussion pulse. Again, the Scottish band Shooglenifty comes to mind.
Then, ‘No Sequel’ returns to the pure joy of an ever-decent tune, with a carefree vocal and a spoken word profession to, let’s just say, a surprising love of life! Sometimes, folk music does that sort of thing.
But ‘If I Should Find Myself’ gets solemn serious with a candle dirge dripped piano pulse and drama to burn. The vocal harmonies capture passion that conjures the ancient contemplation that dissolves (with eerie backing vocals!) into the sparks of a ritual fire. This is really nice folk stuff.
The album ends with ‘Sail Me Home’, and eight-minute reflection on the loss of a loved one that oozes with (of all things!) a Pink Floyd “dark side” very human “moon”. The song floats on soft passion and a broken human heartbeat. It’s an epic tune with a vocal that sadly sings the inscripted words on a familiar tombstone.
Oh Sun Shine Down is a fresh voice that always sings the affirmative “It ain’t so” to the doubt that music can still, even today, travel with the Tuatha De Danann mystical folk who journeyed “sideways to the sun” and are still be heard in “the laughter in the twilight”. Indeed, this album is “a warm sweet breath” with an always current river magic in its grooves.
Artists’ website: https://www.cuamusic.com/
‘Sunrise’ – official video: