Liag is an album of music from South-West Donegal that has been gestating for about thirty years. It concentrates on the more obscure corners of the repertoire and, indeed, there are only two I’m certain I’ve heard before. Dermot Byrne (button accordion and melodeon) is the Donegal man of the trio; Éamonn Coyne , on banjo and tenor guitar, is from just over the way in Roscommon while John Doyle (guitar, bouzouki, mandola and voice) is originally from Dublin. Both Coyne and Doyle have links with Donegal and the trio met at village festivals in the county.
The opening track, ‘Washerwoman’ is a sparkling set of jigs, the sort that makes you smile, beginning with ‘When Sick Is It Tae You Want?’ – one that I have heard before – and it’s followed by three reels. That’s the fundamentals dealt with. ‘The Shelf’ is another jolly tune decorated with banjo runs and then, unexpectedly, comes one of my all-time favourite traditional songs, ‘St Helena’, superb in both lyrics and melody. Napoleon Bonaparte was always a favourite with the Irish and John sings the song with sympathy but unsentimentally. The other song here is written by John, ‘Duffy’s Cut: Mile 59’. It’s a story of Irish emigration to the New World, always a popular subject, but one lacking a happy ending.
‘Stone Mountain’ is, more or less, the title track being a translation of Slieve Liag, a mountain in Donegal containing Ireland highest sea cliffs. The majority of the sets are up-tempo, the exception being ‘Bríd Óg Ní Mháile’, usually heard as a song but played here as an air. With Liag we have three of Ireland’s finest musicians who understand each other’s music and are performing at their best. It is warmly recommended.
This EP serves as a brief reminder of the sheer power of storytelling that is harnessed by Kris Drever’s remarkable and characteristic voice. Bereft of any needless ornamentation, Drever sings with a stark purity that instils a knowing sense of sincerity and urgency in his delivery, effortlessly drawing the listener in to something that is more akin to a conversation than a performance.
There is possibly a limitless array of material from the folk genre that one would wish to hear Drever tackle, and we’re treated to several such standards here. “Parcel Of Rogues” receives a more rumbustious treatment than some of the more usual preachy readings, whilst retaining the tenor of its ardent lyrics, and a breathtaking race through “Shady Grove” gives off some truly exhilarating, frenetic vibes. A more relaxed performance is evident on Sandy Wright’s “Wild Hurricane,” one of those magical moments where the potency of singer and songwriter combine to achieve an exceptional synthesis.
There is an impressive range packed in to this abridged release. The assured driving force of Éamonn Coyne’s banjo sets things off to a rollicking pace on several occasions, accompanied by the sprightly flourish of Megan Henderson’s fiddle, and the commanding, rhythmic authority of Drever’s own guitar on a lively combination of traditional and contemporary tunes, positively brimming with sheer joy and energy. In contrast, Drever’s own delicate composition, “Lament for Glencoe,” offers a blissful, serenity-filled few minutes.
There’s nothing fancy here, and it may only last around fifteen minutes, but you might well struggle to find a more accomplished, more enjoyable fifteen minutes of music on this year’s release schedules. Mike Wilson
Now, that’s more like it…an album that is driven by pure energy! Rather than hide behind the word ‘art’ as some form of defence the Treacherous Orchestra totter dangerously close to the edge without ever once falling off the precipice. With the colours of their Scottish roots proudly nailed to the mast the second track prepares the listener for a Celtic onslaught not unlike the battle cry of Robert Wallace about ready to do battle with the X-Box generation. The brooding power chords drone and fiddle melody of “March Of The Troutsmen” makes you rock with it’s pumping crescendo leading you into the pipes driven “Sheepskins Beeswax/Taybank Shenanigans/Superfly”. Unfortunately I wonder if it was a wise choice of segue between the minor/major key change on the first and second tune in the set which proves a little too much of a shock for lesser souls like me but then again you can’t put a good tune down and, after all it’s only a matter of taste. With a ‘Glasgow Kiss’ (musically speaking) that would make anyone with a Scottish heritage proud the band features (amongst others) the pipes of Ross Ainslie and Eamonn Coyne’s banjo and credentials that would make other groups green with envy. Rather like an all-instrumental Scottish eleven-piece version of Bellowhead I’m sure the orchestra are as flamboyant as their name suggests and I for one can’t wait to see them performing live.