A thrilling small indie label run by Willie Stewart in Ireland’s County Leitrim, Nyahh has recently released records influenced by early music, generative music and the sonic possibilities of sewing machines. Now comes their brilliant collection of Irish folk and sean-nós tracks (a style of ornamented a cappella Gaelic singing), inspired by the song collecting of Alan Lomax but with a twist: most of them were recorded in pubs and homes on mobile phones.
This basic technology foregrounds the voice without filters, reminding us that they are instruments of trembles and tremors, of muscles and flesh. There are many stunning ones here. On Queen of the Heather, Méabh Meir’s vocals, captured in her mother’s kitchen, are spectral, deep and misty. The brilliant Nell Ní Chroinín may remind some listeners of early Joanna Newsom, although her voice is less mannered, her delivery suggesting surprising extra textures to sadness and longing.
Being outside a studio allows the outside world to wander into these recordings. In Conor O’Kane’s Harvest of Clovers (his adaptation of a poem from Edgar Lee Masters’ 1915 Spoon River Anthology), a wind chime shimmers in the distance as he sings, “The earth keeps some vibration going / There in your heart.” Eoghan Ó Ceannabháin’s take on Eileanóir na Rún, a 15th-century séan-nos love song, echoes around a green room above a cultural centre in Spiddal, the natural reverb making his ornamentations, and sentiments, oscillate further.
Different generations sit side by side throughout: singing circle leader Rosie Stewart delivers fast passages like a piper in Jug of Punch before the younger Ruth Clinton sings a mother’s lament against the fug of rowdy pub chatter. The oldest track here, Sarah Ghriallais’ An Sceilpín Draighneach, recorded in 1987, about a lonely man’s unrequited love, provides a moving ending. All these voices lift up against the limitations of modern life and prevail.
Also out this month
Eliza Carthy returns to traditional songs with her trio (Saul Rose and David Delarre) sounding confident and revived. Despite being a relatively stripped-down set of songs, Conversations We’ve Had Before (self-released) is a full, rich and reflective record; Golden Slumbers and The Light of Other Days are especially lovely. Saltwater Hank’s G̱al’üünx Wil Lu Holtga Liimi (self-released) is an intriguing album of rootsy originals and traditionals sung in Sm’algyax, the Indigenous Ts’msyen language from British Columbia and Alaska, dipping into finger-clicking country and early rock’n’roll. Fans of intricate, blissful guitar duets of all stripes should hunt down Waves (Voix) by Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance) and Rick Tomlinson (Voice of the Seven Woods), recorded in three days in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, their playing full of symmetry and chemistry.