If you want people to sit up and take notice of your album then you need an opening track which comes out with all barrels blattering much like The Wheel of Fire on Isle of Man trio Barrule’s new album.
And if this is the kind of music which emanates from the IoM then the world needs more Manx music.
It may sound simplistic but because of it’s geographical position in the Irish Sea it seems Barrule are channelling the music which the island has absorbed like a sponge from Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales as well being undergirded, of course, by the native Manx traditions and culture.
This album is both died-in-the-wool traditional while at the same time sounding incredibly new and fresh.
Tomas Callister and Jamie Smith launch straight in setting down their flag on the tenor banjo and accordion respectively for the opener The Wheel of Fire.
This is a fast-paced set of jigs and reels which whirls up in strands and which make a fine Gaelic-sounding vortex that wouldn’t be out of place as one of the Celtic Connections and at more than six minutes long you can’t say you don’t get your money’s worth straight away.
Barrule are a trio with Adam Rhodes being the third part with the aforementioned players. They are more than ably abetted by Paul McKenna, Gregory Joughin, Calum Stewart, Tad Sargent, David Kilgallon and Dylan Fowler bringing with them a wide range of instrumental skills.
It’s McKenna who takes the lead for King of the Sea his mellow Scottish voice racing along to the beat of the fiddle playing of Callister as his ballad tells of that fish which crops up many, many times in folk music, the herring.
Following this the haunting sound of Kinnoull drifts in on the sound of the uilleann pipes beautifully and mournfully executed by Stewart. Although the wailing sounds of the drones can be heavy and doleful Stewart keeps this one light as it head towards the faster pace of the second half of the instrumental.
Joughin takes centre stage singing in Manx Gaelic for Yn Ven-Ainshter Dewil (The Cruel Mistress) which is a traditional tale from the island. Although the Gaelic influence is very strong it does seem to have inherited strand of European music and in places sounds even medieval. It’s a fascinating sound to which Joughin brings gentle vocals which are coloured again by the pipes.
It’s back to the atmospheric and haunting again as the tune of Illiam Y Thalhear(William Taylor) comes rolling in like a mist on the moors.
Smith’s accordion and Callister’s fiddle fuse together to produce a brooding tune which is short but very memorable.
Joughin’s voice takes over again as he sings more native lyrics for Fir-Hammag Yioogh(High Net Worth Individuals) who are outsiders coming to the island to grab the land and houses.
This has a much lighter tone with the accordion dancing along to a tune which again sounds more like something from Hungary than the Isle of Man but it’s nonetheless enjoyable. The intricate strands of music and changes of pace certainly keep the listener’s interest.
Graih Foalsey(False Love) is a very thoughtful and languid instrumental from Callister’s fiddle and Kilgallon’s sparse but effective piano playing. It’s the sort of tune which comes into your mind when you are all alone on the coast and looking out upon the wide expanse of the sea.
It was near neighbour Ireland which inspired the next track. To Dingle With Love is a toe-tapping tune with its roots in the traditional but its head in the modern sound and almost dares you not to get up and dance. It also gives Smith a chance to show what he can do when let loose with his accordion.
Illiam Boght(Poor William) and it’s Smith who replaces his accordion with his voice for this gentle ballad. He has an understated but very pleasant tone which glides easily along with Callister on the fiddle as he relates this tale of revenge.
On the final track, the trio go out as they came in with a full-blown instrumental, which packs in five tunes, that are light and dance like the waves on the Irish Sea. Pretty much like the record breaking water wheel on the IoM, the album comes full circle.
This is an album of expertly executed music which carries with it the sound and musical traditions of the islands which make up the UK and Eire. It’s almost like a culture, history and geography lesson all rolled into one, if only those subjects were as interesting and worth listening to in the school rooms as they are on this album.
Manannan’s Cloak is released on May 11 on the Easy on the Records label.