Connla – The Next Chapter
Self Released – 6 April 2018
Many newer bands at the moment seem to have the mantra of ‘the faster and louder, the better’, and sometimes an album can be a bewildering experience – not so ‘The Next Chapter’ from Connla, where panache, energy, and style abound. Connla certainly have plenty of accolades under their belt already as well as a smattering of all-Ireland champion instrumentalists in their ranks, and this pedigree shines through in their masterful second album. Assured and sensitive, ‘The Next Chapter’ should be required listening for all budding multi-instrumental bands.
Crucially the pacing of tunes is impressive, but it never tips over into frantic, and this means that album buoys you up with its playful sense of fun, instead of giving you a heart attack at each tune change. A great maturity to the instrumentation shows that Connla really know what they are doing, and ‘The Next Chapter’ has a masterfully low-key and considered opening in ‘Organised Chaos’. This is a jazzy number that does what it says on the tin, giving each band member a chance to set out their stall. With eerie guitar and a building intensity, it’s clear that something magical is about to happen, and Connla deliver in spades.
With relief, I can say that Connla stand out as an example of a band that give their harp the space it needs in the music, and Emer Mallon is a joy to listen to. All arrangements are sensitively done, and musicianship is very much in evidence, particularly in ‘Matinee at Charlie’s’, where the introduction of whistle and pipes is handled deftly, meaning that the listener doesn’t suddenly feel bulldozed by the higher register – hats off to both the band and their production team.
I’m a committed fan of a tune with swing, and ‘Mighty Makena’s’ gives a carefree jazzy turn from the whistle, along with some technique that really made me smile. This trend continues in other tracks such as ‘Cosmo’s’, a closing set that showcases Connla’s fondness for minor keys and a spot of syncopation, and ‘Crunchie Hill’, featuring brilliant electric guitar work from Paul Starrett. A special mention needs to go to the eerie tune “SS Baychimo”, which is named for a Swedish ghost ship off the coast of Canada. Guitar and harp work perfectly against a rich string background to create a picture in sound that finishes all too soon, and it’s a track that I will have on repeat for some time to come.
The vocal tracks are confident and strong, and Ciara McCafferty is at home with a style influenced by mainstream pop and jazz, yet equally able to take traditional favourites such as ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ in her stride. An anthem to moving on, ‘Sail On’ reminded me of the new wave of trad. crossover bands such as Mànran, whilst ‘One Starry Night’ is a quieter ballad of love lost which will fit right in for that reflective late-night session slot.
In the end, that first track tells you all you need to know about the album, as perfectly judged peaks and troughs of intensity keep you interested, whilst the arrangements are refreshingly different. It’s an album that needs to be listened to with the same care and attention that has so obviously gone into its production. Not a brash wall of sound, but rather a careful weaving of instrumentation and technique, ‘The Next Chapter’ is sure to earn Connla acclaim from all sides.
The Next Chapter is Out Now. Order via https://connlamusic.com/
APR 19 – Acoustic Music Club, Kirkcaldy, Burntisland, Scotland
APR 20 – Arisaig Hotel, Arisaig, Arisaig, Scotland
MAY 11 – Armagh Market Place Theatre, Armagh, N. Ireland
MAY 12 – Glassworks Derry, Londonderry, N. Ireland
AUG 26 – Midland Cultural Centre, Midland, Canada