Lewis Barfoot’s Glenaphuca is gorgeous album that condenses modern maturity into a melodic simplicity that, somehow, ignites (with crystalline vocals) the vivid colours of her childhood.
By the way, “What is Glenaphuca?” would be the correct Final Jeopardy response to that statement, “This is the Electoral Division of Dungourney in the Civil Parish of Dungourney, in the Barony of Imokilly, in the County Cork”.
The first song, ‘Fisherman’ begins like an airy Celtic kite, but then anchors its soul into a wonderous (and personified) ode to seaweed, which “saved the Irish people during the famine” as they are “rich in minerals and wisdom”. Well, the great Vin Garbutt on his Plugged album, once remarked, “Somebody said I never do anything for the vegetarians, so this is a couple of tunes called ‘The Goat In The Freezer’ and ‘The Death Of A Chick Pea’”. So, thank you, ‘Fisherman’ is yet another ode to another vegetable of special merit, and it’s a marvelous song in which Lewis’ welcoming sun-coloured voice is juxtaposed to the ever-earthy horizon by a viola and violin (courtesy of Hannah Thomas, Maria Rodriguez Reina, and Elisabeth Flett), while Matt Dibble’s clarinet swims its way through the watery tune. And there’s a really nice coda of voice and violin that dances with a pleasant glance at the traditional tune ‘Dulaman’, which long ago graced Clannad’s third album.
In truth, Lewis’ vocals rest in the same lovely featherbed as Triona Ni Dhomhnaill, Marie Brennan (of Clannad fame!) and Capercaille’s Karen Matheson.
Two songs combine soft feeling toward parents and distant ancestors. ‘White Dress’ (not Fairport Convention song) is an acoustic prayer to memory of her mother. Matt Dibble’s clarinet, again, circulates through the song. This tune slow dances with grief. Then, ‘Sweet Dreams’ digs deeper into tombstone memories that (sort of) get metaphysical—with a shruti drone—and walk with ghosts that still sing and “whisper in the wind”.
And well, the traditional ‘The Fox’ couldn’t be a better kindergarten clap and sing-along tune that, when examined by some inquisitive biologist, would with certainty, be pronounced as Exhibit A for the cruel reality of the evolutionary Darwinian design of the survival of fittest! Yeah, the fox, who wanted a goose and a duck to “grease my chin” took his dinner back to his ‘Cosy den” and his wife “cut up the goose with a knife and never had a such supper in their life, while the little ones chewed on the bones-o”.
But, as John Lennon once sang in his White Album tune, ‘The Continuing Saga Of Bungalow Bill’, “All the children sing”.
It’s all (sort of) like the time, years ago, when I was seriously contemplating Hinduism as the path to an ultimate truth, and while at the same time doing the teacher-intern thing by reading a children’s book to elementary school kids about a cute-as-a button snail who just, due to a cruel twist of fictional fate, was given the Gastropod-Christian name of Escargot; and, trust me, I was desperately hoping there wasn’t a re-incarnated chef among the attentive little tykes during their much-loved morning story time.
Ditto for ‘Ballinatray’, which is a multi-voiced song that oozes with warm comfort, yet chronicles the sad fate of a family of nine children with a father “who put drink in his mouth”, a mother who was “labeled a mad one for speaking her own mind”, and well, the six boys just (somehow) “died”, and the remaining “three raven haired sisters” were sent “without a toy between them” to end up on the wrong side of a “locked orphanage door”. And, while the tune is sadly devoid of a totally appropriate Richard Thompson pathos-fueled guitar solo that graced many of his own desolate ‘End Of The Rainbow’ songs, it bobs to dignity’s surface with a melody worthy of softest sweet-dreamed lullaby. Indeed, let “all the children sing”. Folk music just does that.
The best is yet to come. ‘Sister Lover’ is a lovely song about unity—that touches a truth well beyond its obvious melodic sisterhood. The Gaelic sung ‘Amharan Fosuiochta’ is sheer mystical music breathed ala Jean Redpath and Abby Newton beauty. Then, ‘Rise Up’ gets atmospheric and watches the acid folk psych clock hands as they tick into contemplation. The traditional ‘Twa Corbies’ is a delight, as it feeds on the theme of life and death, and again, sings to the contemplative melodic soul, with nice new vibe.
And then the enigma machine spills its code. And, yeah, “all the children” really do get to “sing” the epic (and really odd!) ‘Transmission Complete’, with its images of ‘man with a pitchfork who smiles—he’s been digging graves”, “wolves are crying” and white horses waiting to guide you”—all the while addressing an unnamed “Earthman”. It’s all wonderfully weird and is propelled by a crosscut saw of a violin pulse. In their prime, Robin and Barry Dransfield made music like this.
Finally, ‘Diddlage’ rests in quietude after that penultimate storm, and simply says, “Slowdown” with blissful guitar accompaniment that ends this lovely record that is filled with melodic joy, passion, introspection, pathos—and thankfully, in a nice nod to the memory of the great Vin Garbutt—with something quite satisfying for all the vegetarians (and chick pea lovers everywhere!) in any given folky audience.
Artist’s website: http://www.lewisbarfoot.com/
‘White Dress’ – official video: