Hailing from Tyrone and Meath, respectively, Northern Irish duo Mark McCausland (a cousin of Lonnie Donegan, apparently) and Osin Leech have made a point of recording their albums in different cities. For After The Fire After The Rain, their sixth, they went to Brooklyn where they recruited Daniel Schlett and Tony Garnier, Dylan’s bassist and musical director for the past thirty years, as producers. Garnier also features on a double bass once owned by Charlie Mingus while other stellar contributions come from Howe Gelb, M Ward, Jolie Holland and Waterboys fiddler Steve Wickham.
The new album includes three instrumentals, the first being the hushed and reflective fingerpicked ‘Six Mile Cross’ (a location in Omagh) with its background wash of brushed drums and da da dah vocals while, played on Spanish guitar, the circling melody of ‘Ash Wednesday’ with its whistling and occasional bass drum thump has the feel of mountains and prairie nights in some Leone western. The third, and the album’s slow march swaying closer with its wordless oohing from Jolie, has a firmly romantic Irish flavour, not least in being titled ‘Glens of Gortin’, named for an area near Omagh. Indeed, the songs were written in an old County Monaghan hotel, the landscape, weather and their connections to their home informing and inspiring the finished work.
Meanwhile, back at the start and featuring a haunting harmonica, the world-weary ‘Fugitive Moon’ again has that dusty Americana texture, a five-minute strummed unrequited love song (“My heart is vacant like a desolate room”) of a man “cursed since the day I was born” in a lyric that references the river Boyne with the line “who knows where the time goes” surely a nod to Sandy.
The pace picks up, and even more so in the final stretch, with ‘Medicine Wine’, another widescreen number, here with Dave Murphy’s keening pedal steel and Garnier’s upright bass, that speaks of the Irish landscape’s healing power, namechecking both Gortin Glen and the Tara hills. It carries over into the chugging rhythm of the downbeat ‘Eight Hundred Miles’, the line “The loneliness of a long distance soul/Torn apart on the cambria shores” presumably a reference to the wreck of the SS Camria off the north-west of Ireland in October 1870 with great loss of life (“I’ll be gone in the grey winter sun/Forever tied to oblivion”), the harmonies underlining the frequent S&G comparisons. It is, however, Leonard Cohen who most comes to mind, both in melody and vocal delivery on the first of the two title tracks (a James Taylor nod, perhaps), a dappled rhythm underpinning a lyric Leech describes as a statement of perseverance and survival (“After the fire came the hard and blowing rains/At the belief seminar they said to face the pain”) as brass arrives in the closing stretch. His ghost is there again, hovering over the banjo-flecked and fiddle Appalachian flavours of the ominous -toned ‘Venus’ with its lines about how “I’ve come to be undone/By my blind faith” and “learned to smile as I make my kill” and
Things then take a bluesy turn with Garnier bringing a touch of his Tom Waits bass contributions to the spooked, loping and hushedely sung ‘Hope Machine’ with its Farfisa interjections while, harmonica putting in a return appearance along with brass shadings, ‘Wilderness’ is a slow lurch in keeping with lines like “comes a void where I slip and I fall into nothingness/Where I wait for the light to flood in out of consciousness/My back to the sun my weakness defenceless/I go blinded by the wilderness”, yet ultimately proving a refusal to surrender to despair – “And I look to the sky and I won’t be defied by the Emptiness/ Then comes a voice from above telling me to begin/Again/And I’ve got no choice but to heed the call and get up again”.
Paul Brainard’s mariachi horns also make a splash in the second half of the title as, McCauslan on baritone guitars, it swells midway before a soft dying fall as, haunted by the call of his native land, Leech sings “Now I’m far away I’m trying to get home/Pray to St. Anthony don’t leave me alone”. Their last album was called Halfway To The Healing, this completes the journey.
Artists’ website: www.thelostbrothersband.com
‘After The Fire’ – official video: