A trio from Ulster comprising multi-instrumentalist Michael Mormecha, guitarist and singer Zach Trouton and Dónal Kearney, a folk singer brought up in the Irish language tradition, their impressive debut album, No Fixed Abode, recorded over three years, mines a variety of folklore (the trio’s named after named after a band of mythological musicians) that embraces not only the Celt. The clearest example comes on ‘The Woodsman’, a self-penned acoustic number that draws inspiration from the Yuki-onna or snow women, Japanese spirits that take revenge on the men that have wronged them, and also relates to the album cover, taken from a Japanese woodblock by Edo period Kunisada Utagawa depicting the actor Iwai Hanshirō portraying a female figure dressed as a monk.
Elsewhere, taking a similar approach, Kearney contributes ‘Jenny Black’s Hill’, a lolloping progressive folk number underpinned by a steady drum thump and coloured by woodwinds before it breaks out into a rousing chorus based on the legend of a witch said to inhabit the town of Warrenpoint in Co. Down, and sung from her perspective. Likewise, one of the album’s Irish-language songs, here given a spare, heavily percussive prog arrangement ‘Ar A Dhul Go Báile Átha Cliath Domh’ is a traditional number about a young woman (a shape shifting fairy in some tellings) attempting to seduce away a sick woman’s husband as he travels into Dublin but he having none of it.
Also on the traditional path, it opens with the familiar lament ‘Newry Boat Song’, woven around guitar and flute and sung in both English and Gaelic, followed in turn by another sea-based number, ‘Dúlamán’, again sung in Gaelic, its circling melody line driven with an intense percussive energy. Shifting geography, the harmonies coloured by flute, ‘Gaol Ise, Gaol Í’, moves to Scotland for a tribal rhythm nonsense song, invented by weaving women to maintain their rhythm while making tweed, moving on to English traditional pastures for the evergreen folk favourite ‘The Blacksmith’, although again given a more experimental, slightly industrial, arrangement as the thumping bass drum moves it along, before returning to Irish shores for the slow waltzing, guitar shimmering ‘Bonny Portmore’, an Irish traditional folk song lamenting the demise of Ireland’s old oak forests, specifically the Great Oak of Portmore which fell in a windstorm in 1760, its timber used for shipbuilding.
Back home, they deliver an initially unaccompanied reading of Tommy Sands’ homesick reverie ‘County Down’, the instrumentation slowly building to impart an anthemic feel, while there’s a jazzy ambience to the dusty, shuffling rhythm of the original ‘The Ballad Of Ellie Hanley/An Cailín Bán’, a murder ballad in which the unfaithful husband meets his end at the gallows. It ends back with a Scottish flavour in the form of ‘Ay Waukin O’, an a cappela rendition of an old waulking song and dream of absent lover rewritten by Robert Burns, but not before striking a political note with the standout ‘Rebel Song’, a simply strummed number that, its origin in ‘The Merry Month Of May’, draws on both the Brendan Behan version in ‘The Patriot Game’ and Dylan’s reworking of it as ‘With God On Our Side’.
No Fixed Abode is a stunningly assured debut, its sonic textures repaying repeated listening, and boding extremely well for their future journey and hopefully long-lived abode in the folk community.
Artists’ website: www.tru-music.com
‘Bonny Portmore’ – live: