Still considered to be something of a secret in their native Ireland, Dublin-based urban alt-folk sextet The Mariannes may be about to expand their horizons beyond the Emerald Isle’s shores. The band has been gigging around their home country since 2012, appearing at arts and folk festivals and gaining prominence when they picked up the main cash prize in 2014’s inaugural Clancy Brothers Songwriting Competition. They put the money to good use and with a bit of help from a crowd funding exercise, paid for the recording of their debut EP at Dublin’s Cauldron Studios.
The resulting EP, Lost with all Hands gets off to a great start as muted strings and a slow blues riff introduce the somewhat downbeat Ache in my Heart, soon to be joined by an emotional slide guitar and Lisa Loughrey’s mournful vocal. She laments about a heartache that’s carried from morning to night and that will accompany her to the grave, while she prays without success for the feeling to leave. The listener can only imagine what has led to such entrenched sorrow, as the veil on the cause is not lifted.
In contrast, at least musically, the comparatively up-tempo country of Mama Please sounds a lot brighter but the song still deals with a troubling subject, as a down-on-her-luck woman pleads with her mother for a place to stay. Gearóid Ó Broin’s banjo and Jack Cassidy’s mandolin leads God Fearing Woman and its cautioning tale of a regretted love affair, while Joe Maher’s guitar plots a meandering course throughout and Lisa’s strong vocal recalls Natalie Merchant’s performance on 10,000 Maniacs’ early albums, especially In My Tribe.
Another slow, bluesy piece, the competition-winning title song begins with gentle guitar, tinkling piano and a sparse, emotional lead. These take a back seat to another fine vocal that warns that “nothing is quite what it seems”, which could describe more than a few of the band’s songs, before paying careful attention to the lyrics. Over an appropriately subdued backing, the story is told of a ship on a doomed journey through a storm and as the tale continues, “there’s nothing else to say.”
On the strength of this all-too-brief collection, it is easy to hear why Irish music critics are so taken with the Mariannes. Dark songs of hidden pain with often deceptive and evocative instrumental arrangements combine elements of Irish folk, blues, country and rock to produce an enticing, compelling listen. It’s time for them to venture into the wider world.
Review by: Roy Spencer