Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh’s Thar Toinn (aka Seaborne) is a crystal brook twenty-one-minute “capsule project” of wonderful Irish folk music.
The first song, ‘Faoiseamh Faoistine’, is an acoustic featherbed with MNA’s vocals dancing with melodic steps. Lyrics are by Domhnall Mac Sithigh, and the music is by Gerry O’ Beirne (of Midnight Well fame!) whose sprite-like guitar colours the song.
To the point: this music conjures the absolute beauty of Clannad’s earthy second sublime album, and thankfully, avoids any of the Enya mystical ephemeral deep Celtic new age stuff.
‘Air Fallirinn Lù’ is another slow traditional ride into the Irish introspective soul, with viola heart and backing vocals by Scotland’s Julie Fowlis, who Muireann joined in the (very great) Dual, a band that intertwined Irish and Scottish Gaelic traditions.
And, just so you know, my Midwestern American computer’s spell check system, when confronted with all the Gaelic names and words, just wants to commit suicide.
That said, ‘Tá Ná Báid Go Doimhin Sa bhFarraige, Sios Cois Na Trá Agus Amach Chun Na Farraige’ is a welcome up-tempo tune with MNA’s flute and whistle pulsing the purity of that before-mentioned early Clannad sound, which is a certain elder cousin to the more current music of the very great band Danu, which MNA fronted for thirteen years. Their Buan is a wonderful album.
Things slow with the piano (played by Cormac McCarthy!) backed ‘Sweet Kingwilliamstown’. The song (in English) stretches melodic nerves that sing with quiet passion. This is Irish folk music with simmering wires exposed to an acoustic touch.
This is all introspective and beautiful stuff—the stuff that lingers in warm confines of a small comfy Irish Fest tent, far away from the concert favorites of Gaelic Storm and Cherish the Ladies.
And it is music longing for distant memories.
All right, years ago while in Ireland, as De Danann’s fast-paced instrumental version of ‘Hey Jude’ was constantly spinning in all record stores, I was holed up in a Dublin one pound ten a night of a youth hostel, where I was given a big pillow sack and led into a room with a lot of straw. Then this short stout Irish guy asked, “Do you know who I am?”
I ventured, “Rumpelstiltskin”.
Well, not quite, because he was the tough security guy who didn’t find my joke very funny. So, stuff my big pillow mattress I did! And I certainly didn’t complain about the iron bed frames upon which my lumped straw mattress bulged with uncertain slumber. Ah, but during my stay, I absorbed such glorious music: Triona Ni Dhomhnaill (of The Bothy Band fame!) played a set with some guy from Nashville in our hostel. (And the straw and iron were all forgiven.) I bought records by Christy Moore, Andy Irvine, Oisin, Pumpkinhead, Horslips and Paul Brady. I saw The Wolf Tones! And I heard Planxty’s ‘Cliffs Of Dooneen’, which was (at the time) a thoughtful journey into my own far away home, and it’s a song which recalls the sublime beauty of a welcoming melody—a place where (dare I say?) Rapunzel will always “Let down her hair”.
Seaborne sings from that tradition.
That memory recalled, the comfort of ‘Backwaterside’ is yet another soft featherbed that recalls the beauty of Fairport’s Sandy Denny. That’s a huge thing to say.
And then things extend to the eerie ‘Port Na bPúcaí’. Husband Billy Mag Fhoinn plays his Yaybahar (!!!) and truly evokes deep echoes from the depths of a sea that will always sing the sounds of Celtic mythology to answer all the waves of soft uncertainty.
Seaborne touches those ocean waves and knits a melodic sweater that provides just enough warmth to brave the dark, rich, and hair-tangled currents, dropped from any tower (with straw to spare!) of Irish traditional music.
Artist’s website: https://www.muireann.ie/
‘Port Na bPúcaí’ – official video: