cua – Songs of the Hollow
Self Released – 14 October 2017
Well, here I am, in a bit of a quandary. Listening to Songs of the Hollow, the new album by cua, and wondering. Not hard, earnest wondering but enough wondering to spend some time in consideration. Considering what? you may wish to know. Well, it’s not the music itself – that’s very good – its just placing it. I am not one for essential classification. Well not that much. Like most self-respecting music collectors, I do like a certain amount of pigeon-holing if only to inform myself at a later date as to what goes with what. I would also add that although I might subscribe to sub-genres, I don’t head off into sub-sub-genres ad infinitum.
However I do like to think where I could place an album and what I might play before or after, either to maintain the ambience or for contrast. And every now and then along comes an album that makes you think – and wonder.
cua (with no capitals) are a three-piece band from Ireland who have set their stall out somewhere between the Emerald Isle and the other side of the pond, taking in a few points elsewhere. They describe their music as ‘Atlantean’ referring to this transatlantic connection rather than a mythical submerged classical city. It is easy to see why they do this as they bring together different aspects of different styles – close harmony singing, echoes of West Coast country rock, Irish melodies, southern European bouzouki. In some songs these blends have a clear bias towards one heritage; in others, the blends produce their own sound that adds extra interest.
The more American results of the equation comes through in many guises. The Eagles, one of their named influencers, is clearly present in Chest’s Final Beat and in The Somewhere Waltz (think Another Saturday Night with Irish overtones and fiddle). Hollow Men has a definite Simon & Garfunkel pre-Bridge Over Troubled Water feel and Bluegrass seems to be somewhere in Lonely Island. There is even a bit of show tune in Hot Blooded, a number that could be adapted for a jazz blues band.
The Irish element is never very far away, often appearing as a lyrical or jaunty refrain between verses or as the middle eight, as in the opening track, Atlantic Cross, which is also a huge clue to what cua are about. A Stone On A Beach is a contemporary take on the Irish ballad.
It is not only the musical styles that are varied. The subjects vary from love songs to songs of loss and songs of hope. There are also songs of anger: Waco on the perils of belief, Animals on a brutal assault and The Other Man, an indictment on the trend to say that it’s nothing to do with me, a song made sharper by its a cappella presentation. Kings and Queens provides more echoes of Irish defiance applicable to all. The past is brought up to date when enslavement is not restricted to capture through war but the enslavement due to the actions of the “tea-leaf in the three-piece suit”.
The only tune on the album is Black Dog. It starts with the promise of a Hungarian czardas but shifts territory slightly into a less frenetic dance, lulling you into a false sense of sedentary movement before it flies off about two-thirds of the way through, leaving you whirling around in circles.
The tracks also vary from a cappella to multi-instruments. The violin is not contained to Irish melodies, the guitar at times carries classical overtones, and the percussion is effective yet unobtrusive, holding it all together without overshadowing. Listen to the intro to the last track, Mother Earth, and enjoy the build up as Bouzouki brings in the violin which in turn brings in the guitar.
So, back to the wondering. You might think that this album seems disjointed – which it isn’t – or has too much variety – which it doesn’t. What it is, is a reflection of the broad interests of the band, and of us all. Which musician does not take a bit from here, another bit from there? No one ever complained about the George Harrison tracks on basically a Lennon & McCartney album (though I’m not sure about Ringo’s offerings).
So I’ve stopped wondering and now simply enjoy Songs of the Hollow, an album of variety and of voices, of echoes and of influences, and of emotions and passions.
Order Songs of the Hollow via https://www.cuamusic.com/