For much of the last 18 months, music venues have stood silent, which makes this project from Irish musician Ross Turner feel especially affecting. Recorded around the 150th anniversary of Dublin’s National Concert Hall (an institution with links to the 1916 rising, the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the War of Independence), it sees old lecture theatres, disused stairwells and even a former morgue in the venue being turned into atmospheric studios. Within these spaces, a stellar cast of artists with connections to traditional music make old and new songs crackle into life.
The brilliant folk musician Lisa O’Neill kicks things off, collaborating with violinist Colm Mac Con Iomaire of the Frames, on Canadian ballad Peggy Gordon. The song moves slowly, mesmerisingly, O’Neill’s voice full of playful warmth before it starts pining and longing. At one point, you hear the echoes of a storm outside as the violin builds, but the production never overpowers the song’s humble sentiments.
Other treasures glitter elsewhere. Naranja by Irish-Peruvian musicians Eileen and Sean Carpio sounds like a celestial folk moment from a horror film soundtrack, Eileen’s high, clear voice echoing sweetly around the walls. Brigid Mae Power and Adrian Crowley’s new version of his song Halfway to Andalucia is full of reverb-heavy country heart, while Villagers’ Conor O’Brien and Paul Noonan of Irish groups Bell X1 and Houseplants also offer folk-adjacent, singer-songwriter delights.
The more experimental moments at the album’s end linger longest: Saileog Ní Cheannabháin’s piano clashing then communing with Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh’s scraping fiddle; the Mercury-nominated Lisa Hannigan’s wordless vocals whirling around the Crash Ensemble, turning MCMXIV into an avant-garde hymn. History meets the present day here, twisting it into new affecting patterns.
Lankum member Ian Lynch’s new compilation, Fire Draw Near (River Lea) is full of extraordinary Irish music recorded between 1947 and 2013 in campsites, living rooms, studios and bars. Throughout, mischief, sadness and soul are wrenched from singers’ diaphragms, while fiddles and uilleann pipes twitch and stir with raw energy.
Grace Petrie’s Connectivity (self-released) further mines her seam of politically charged, easy-on-the-ear social commentary. Songs inspired by the pandemic, LGBTQ+ activism and Ikea make you think of a cheekier Billy Bragg.
Karine Polwart and Dave Milligan’s Still As Your Sleeping (Hudson) makes the most of the Scottish singer’s mellow alto in songs about stillness and flux, leaving and returning.