Landless: Lúireach review | Jude Rogers’ folk album of the month

Estimated read time 3 min read

Vocal harmony is in the dense weave of so much traditional music, and it becomes a startling, golden thread in Landless’s second album. Named after an Irish word that can mean a cloak for protection, a breastplate and a hymn, Lúireach is a collection of 10 sublime songs, many of them about bold women. It also showcases four female singers (Méabh Meir, Lily Power, Ruth Clinton and Sinéad Lynch), whose voices seem to rise from the sacra of their spines, emerging from their bodies in heavenly flight or heavy drones.

The artwork for LúireachView image in fullscreen

As ancient, deep and moving as an unusual early music instrument, Meir’s tones are the first that we hear, on The Newry Highwayman. She is joined by her bandmates in tender support, plus Alex Borwick’s soft, sighing trombone, string drones played by Lankum’s Cormac Mac Diarmada, and the growing dread that’s such a signature flourish of John “Spud” Murphy’s production (for Lankum and others). Then comes a sweet, unusual version of folk standard Blackwaterside, learned from Irish Traveller Paddy Doran, showcasing the group’s similar facility and respect for lightness and darkness.

So many other treasures abound. Lúireach Bhríde, bolstered by all four women singing powerfully, is a beautiful original, commissioned by the RTÉ folk awards as a piece revisiting the pre-Christian stories of Irish goddess Brigid. Then comes Clinton’s Conacher pipe organ introduction to Death and the Lady, sounding precise and profound; the clavichord on The Hag (Lynch’s setting of a 17th-century Robert Herrick poem) adding delicacy to the tale of a woman “astride / this night for to ride”; Meir’s shruti box and singing bowls sounding impossibly loving on Slovakian closer Ej Husári. Long-term Celtic music fans should flock to them – they’re a deliciously doomier Clannad – while devotees of Ireland’s current, brilliant scene should also respond to their stunning intensity.

Also out this month

Another beautiful album by brilliant banjo player and instrument-maker Jacken Elswyth, At Fargrounds (Wrong Speed Records), builds vivid worlds of singing birds and rural landscapes from layered plucks, thrums and buzzes of sound. Unsettling electronics and effects shudder through tracks such as Warm Machinery and Who Remembers, while Alula Down’s Mark Waters and Kate Gathercole provide atmospheres via double bass, fiddle and harmonium.

The Deep Dark Woods’ Broadside Ballads Vol III (Victory Pool) dresses traditional songs in longing lashings of reverb and pedal steel, Ryan Boldt lending his Canadian lilt to tracks such as Brigg Fair and The Boatman. It should sound too extravagant, but it’s often unexpectedly sexy.

More lushly produced fare comes courtesy of Harbottle and Jonas on their collection of songs, poems and lullabies, Wild Goose (Brook View Records). On tracks sung by Freya Jonas, they come over like a cosmic contemporary Fairport Convention.


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