Kan – Sleeper (Kan Music, 2012)

Kan are a folk quartet boasting an enviable line-up of stellar musicians who already command prominent reputations, both within the folk scene and beyond: Scotsman Aidan O’Rourke on fiddle, who has attracted much praise as part of folk wonder-trio Lau and Blazin’ Fiddles; Brian Finnegan, hailing from Armagh, on flute and whistles, formerly of Flook; Yorkshireman and multi-instrumentalist, Ian Stephenson on guitar, bass, mandolin, piano, and harmonium, a former BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award winner; whilst drums and percussion come courtesy of Jim Goodwin.

From the outset the stakes are pretty high, and Kan rise to the challenge superbly with this eclectic, energetic set. Variety abounds throughout, with moments of hushed subtlety building to frenzied, celebratory episodes, and whilst the musical flavours are predominantly those of the English, Irish and Scottish traditions, there is a worldly feel throughout the album. One or more of the quartet are involved in the writing of each of the eight album tracks, and coupled with arrangements that fuse the very best that each musician has to offer, they manage to create a sound that is assuredly distinct.

Opening track “One Two Three” sets the tone immediately with the percussion and guitar providing a fresh, avant-garde moodscape over which fiddle and whistles weave their sumptuous, traditional-influenced melodies; it’s a recipe that works well. Even the frequently surfacing Celtic flavours of the album are peppered with perfectly measured percussive underpinnings that feed off the natural energy of the melodies rather than overwhelm them. It maybe comes as no surprise to note that the masterful Calum Malcolm is responsible for the mixing of this album, and no doubt the well measured balance of this recording owes much to his involvement.

Sleeper is an album that is positively effervescent, treading a path of fusion that others frequently get so wrong. Seducing with its expansive, understated moments, and arousing with its explosive energy, it’s an album that will appeal to both the discerning individual listener as well as the massed carousal of a festival audience.

Mike Wilson