When presented with a band composed of an Irishman and two Italians, one male one female, I think it’s no surprise that speculation was rife as to just what style of music I was about to hear. Their own description, “A blend of the Irish music tradition with the sounds of folk-blues and jazz” doesn’t give much away. A glance through the track listing shows a number of familiar and several not so familiar traditional songs and tunes along with some band compositions. So, I started to listen, still not too sure what to expect.
The first track, Lough Erne Shore, opens with the guitar of Eoghan O’Shaughnessy, soon joined by Consuelo Nerea Breschi’s vocal. There’s a clarity to Consuelo’s voice that is immediately reassuring, the phrasing and confidence of the delivery belying the mix of traditions that’s involved. Matteo Podda’s bouzouki soon joins guitar in the accompaniment, gently underlying the vocal. Both provide an extended instrumental break between verses, combining in variations on the melody and for the last passage of the track they are joined by a fiddle. Both Eoghan and Consuelo play fiddle but neither are credited on this track. I’ll assume it was Consuelo.
Interestingly, the fiddle takes a part largely below the guitar and bouzouki on Lough Erne Shore and, as the album progresses, the absence of a true bass instrument becomes a more and more noticeable feature of the music. This is not meant as a criticism, it gives the instrumental parts a lightness and feeling of space that is beguiling.
The following track, Pretty Caro, a band composition, is a short instrumental, a duet for the guitars of Eoghan and Matteo. There are signs here of the jazz influences that the band declare and I’m reminded of an instrumental style from decades back. This impression firms up listening to the two guitars accompany Consuelo’s vocal on Do You Love An Apple, a song that I’ve generally known by the title ‘Still I Love Him’. With this vocal, two guitar combination also in evidence on the Wee Weaver, The Morning Tree show themselves capable of producing music that deserves to be compared with Pentangle’s 1969 album Basket of Light and the magic that came from Jansch and Renbourn’s guitar duets. If such a comparison is what Eoghan was alluding to when he said of their album “In many ways it’s a response to how song accompaniment has been treated in Irish music over the last twenty years”, I can only say that I’m delighted with the result.
Instrumental tune sets such as The Scartaglen / Tune learnt off the fairies and Rakish Paddy / Cameronian provide a rather more traditional sound with duetting fiddles, guitar and/or bouzouki setting a rhythm and Consuela adding bodhran to The Scartaglen.
Eoghan contributes vocals to two tracks. As the native Irishman he contributes a traditional Gaelic love song from Donegal, Tá mé i mo shuí on which he’s joined by the only guest musician on the album, Mario Lipparini on Bardic harp. The album closes with The Emigrant’s Farewell, the traditional song rather than Cara Dillon / Sam Lakeman ’s one of the same title. Consuelo and Eoghan each take verses and combine in harmony on the chorus, accompanied by fiddles that add suitably mournful notes to a song that laments a parting from both a lover and a homeland. The liner notes explain that working up this song coincided with a departure from Italy and they felt that made it well-suited to being the final song on the album. Personally, I would have preferred the collection to end on a more up-beat note, so I just have to skip back and put the wonderfully uplifting Pearl’s Marches on repeat.
Despite my drawing comparisons that look back 40+ years, the album leaves one with an impression that is decidedly forward looking. Here are three musicians who combine a genuine love of traditional material with the skill and imagination to imbue it with freshness and vitality.
Review by: Johnny Whalley
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