An emerging star on the folk scene from the Armagh-Monaghan border, Larkin delivers an assured and hugely impressive debut, Notes For A Maiden Warrior, handling guitar, harmonium and banjo with George Sloan on percussion and cello alongside violinist Kate Squires.
Drawing on Irish folklore and mythology, it’s conceived as lessons, or perhaps rather observations, on how to be a warrior, how to create change by learning from stories of old and from other realms, and how to navigate love, death, suffering, pain, strength and kindness. It’s the warrior that dominates the early going opening with the spooked and stark circling banjo notes of Appalachian-folk hued ‘The Mother Within’ that offsets the battle cry with maternal embrace, leading, with a similar arrangement and feel, to ‘Bloodthirsty’ with its feral imagery (“Through the forest she runs at night/At the speed of light with her spear/She leaps over hills and cries and the sound of the hunting spear”).
Banjo remaining lead instrument, the intensity ebbs slightly for ‘Aoife’, the title referencing the Ulster Cycle of tales in which Aoife, the daughter of Airdgeimm and sister of Scathach, is a great warrior princess who, in a war against her sister, is defeated in single combat by the hero Cú Chulainn and eventually becomes the mother of his only son, Connlach. The lyrics over feel more rooted in the real world as she sings “Where do all the lonely feet go/Pondering the night/Traipsing over old cobblestones” and of “The rudiments of shame”.
‘The Red (Maca’s Return)’ is again rooted in mythology, Macha being an Irish war goddesss, strongly linked to the land and thought to be one aspect of the triple death-goddess, the Morrigán, the red here clearly alluding to blood spilled in a madness of battle, but also hinting at her association with fertility.
The mood shifts to the aspects of the maiden with the six-minute ‘The Magpie’, opening with an intricate lengthy picked guitar solo before it turns percussive, the vocals arriving with a muted howling at the moon for a lyric that draws on traditional folk nature imagery of magpies, hens and foxes for a song that nods to the fiercely protective maternal instinct, warning “You’d better not clip, her wings in full flight”.
Returning to Appalachian colours, ‘Samson & Goliath’ strikes a note of vulnerability (“Here I am, in front of you/Battling the storm…For I am no Samson Goliath can bring me down/I am no Samson, smite me where I stand and take my crown”), whether that be in a relationship or adrift in life generally.
Then comes the three-part personal emotions of ‘Love’ drawing on water imagery, ‘Part One’ ‘a rippling fingerpicked number on which she sings “We walked along the shore as one under the moon/You dived into the water and fell, deeper”, while, again under moonlight, ‘Part Two’ is taken at a slower, more reflective pace but with some edgy guitar patterns (“I do not know you/But I would like to dip in to water and breathe with you”) culminating with the cello burnished union of Part Three (“Wrap your arms around me, sweet”), howling together and listening to the whispering woods, ending with the repeated mantra “Tell me it’s alright, tell me it’s alright”.
It ends with Larkin singing unaccompanied on ‘Three Wise Women’, a recurring triplet (the muses, the fates, etc.) in the mythologies of many nations and civilisations, being the Ban-Draoithe in Celtic , here, from whose silver hair “Are woven life’s tapestries”, embodying and imparting female identity and empowerment (“The first called out my name/Never heard before/I felt a tug upon my heart and my fire began to roar”), the connection to the land (“I danced with her into the night/And surrendered to the ground”) and, through water , a symbol of life and rebirth, a link to the feminine principle through the ages (“We howled into the pale moonlight/And went diving for ancestors”).
Digging deep into the roots of the past, woven around a wintery soundscape of mist, moonlight, wind and water, Notes For A Maiden Warrior announces Larkin as a potent new voice, a storyteller in the bardic tradition and a consummate guitarist whose future path will be one well worth following.
Artist’s website: www.danilarkin.com
‘The Red (Maca’s Return) – official video: