The renaissance of Irish trad and folk music in recent years, spearheaded by the likes of Lankum and The Gloaming says as much about our collective psyche as it does about the musicians regenerating it. A reaction, perhaps, to the over-amplification of modern society supercharged by social media; the humdrum of post-Celtic Tiger gluttony forced us to take stock and ask ourselves what it means to be Irish, if anything at all?
Having stepped out from under the boot of our British neighbours for long enough to stand on our own two feet it was time to take stock, look forwards and back with equal measure, reclaim our history and our music which had often been used to denigrate us and keep us in our collective place, but when we pulled back the covers and ripped off the Leprechaun mask, we found that we had as much to be proud of in our past as we do in our present and future. If we were ever going to make a new Ireland, we would have to make peace with its past and its art.
Blackbird & Crow are amongst this growing cohort of musicians who have tossed away the tourist clichés and attempted to explore its gothic underbelly. The Donegal duo’s second album ‘Ailm’ weaves tales of harlots in sleepy hollows, the grim reaper of disease and damnation at the hands of Banshees and roguery. Maighread Ni Ghrasta’s expressive Donegal drawl delivers vivid spoken word refrains with the kind of bite you’d expect from a gangster rapper but is equally compelling when switched to her infinitely lighter singing mode. Stephen Doohan (Guitars/Bouzouki/Mandolin/Stomp Box) accompanies these morbid laments, across a range of musical styles wringing every drop of scorn from Ni Ghrasta’s performance with the help of blues licks, drones and blankets of fingerpicking motifs.
Tracks such as The Witch That Could Not Be Burned, Margaret the Martyr, The Ways That I Can Make You Suffer and A Pox On You stand tall, dark, yet exquisitely vivid in their delivery. Decanting the pain, remorse and fragility of the women depicted in these songs, Ni Ghrasta emerges as an accomplished lyricist, illuminating a viewpoint rarely allowed come to the fore in traditional music, let alone flourish.
Strikingly normal in comparison, songs such as Parting Ring and Sweet Surrender are out of place beside these black ballads, but thankfully such dips in quality are only momentary. For the most part, ‘Ailm’ is an extremely potent and captivating deep dive into the heart of darkness of Donegal.
Blackbird & Crow launch ‘Ailm’ at The Grand Social on Friday, 10th April. Tickets €14.45.