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OxFolk Review: ‘2’

Ben Ray looks at '2', the latest album by The Gloaming

It’s hard to describe to listeners exactly what The Gloaming is: a contemporary folk group? An experimental exploration of jazz, classical and traditional music? Or a mix of all of these things? Perhaps The Gloaming describe themselves best: they sit at ‘a musical crossroads’, encapsulating all of these things and more. This group draw from the enormous breath of skill and influences, from the incredible fiddle skills of Martin Hayes & Caoimhin O Raghallaigh and the sean-nos singing of Iarla O Lionaird, to the more experimental tones of guitarist Dennis Cahill from Chicago and pianist Thomas Bartlett from New York. These are world class musicians joining together to create something astonishing- and The Gloaming’s latest album, ‘2’, is certainly worthy of their credentials.

The wonderful breadth of emotion this album manages to create within the listener is frankly astonishing- in the opening track ‘The Pilgrim Song’ the quavering, evocative voice of O Lionaird swells above the steady, melodic build of Bartlett’s piano, whilst O Raghallaigh’s glorious fiddle dances and soars in between the two, bringing the piece to life. The standard just doesn’t slip throughout the album- with The Gloaming showing they have the impressive knowledge that sometimes, less is more. The minimalist, pared-back accompaniment of Cahill and Bartlett on many of the tracks creates a wonderful illusion of simplicity and ease, when it may have been tempting to layer the sound with many other harmonies. Instead, the listener is presented with a subtle mix of textures and sounds that is never overwhelming, and is always compelling.

And, as with the best traditional music, these tunes have a strong history behind them, giving the album depth and interest far beyond the first listening. Song, melody and contemporary poetry are all explored and shaped here, with each song telling a story. For example, ‘Farewell to Maigue’ is an inventive interpretation of the work of 18th century poet Aindrias Mac Craith, whilst ‘Wanderer’ relates an ancient tale of magic. Although all of the songs are sung in the group’s native Gaelic, this only seems to add to the mystery and magic of the tunes, giving the listener the sense of something ethereal and otherworldly.

The success of The Gloaming- with their first album winning various awards, from winning a BBC Radio 2 Folk Award to taking the Meteor Choice Music Prize for Album of the Year- had a difficult task to follow with their second album. However, ‘2’ definitely achieves this, and much more: it is a soft re-iteration of their immense skill and ability to reinterpret Irish traditional music, using simple interplay and relations between their instruments to expertly shape the sound into something new, fascinating and exciting.

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