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CÚIG - New Landscapes

CÚIG - New Landscapes
Private Label

Five-piece band, Cúig, hail variously from Armagh and Tyrone, and were formed back in 2013, since when they’ve been becoming established as among the most promising young bands on the Irish traditional music scene, with a keen ear for contemporary tune-writing both within and outside of the purely Irish tradition – their music also incorporates flavours and tunes from Breton and Galician sources. After two years of supporting major acts like Flook and Beoga on stage, and gaining some healthy radio exposure on BBC Radio (Three and Ulster), they’re now ready to release their debut full-length CD – so we can all hear what the fuss has been about!

Cúig, logically enough, means “five”, and the line-up comprises Miceál Mullen (banjo/mandolin), Rónán Stewart (fiddle/uilleann pipes), Cathal Murphy (percussion), Eoin Murphy (button accordion) and Ruairí Stewart (guitar). It strikes the listener immediately that the group sound is as assured as the individual playing, and that the gently funky, sometimes rock-oriented percussion is an integral part of that blend – more so than is usual with a traditional-based ensemble, and even on the pacier tunes like slow reel Poison The Well, which turns into the insistent riffing of The Mountain Couch, later capped off with a teasingly virtuoso Allan Henderson composition energised by Cúig’s banjo, accordion and fiddle front line. And rising above mere display of technique, the disc’s title track motors along through a couple of reels of contemporary origin before finishing with a Cape Breton tune. The 10.40 To Heathrow set takes in a pair of timeless jigs including a stirring new composition by Cathal. The slightly jazzy funky demeanour of the strathspey on track 6 is an interesting departure, but it works, giving way to a mandolin and pipes combo for the melody of the final pair of reels. The Pilsner Polkas set pairs Eoin’s tune of that name with a polka by Sharon Shannon, while on the slip-jig set, Land’s End, Niall Vallely’s tune, Grappa Groove, brings in a bouncing folk-rock beat and honking brass from Michael Owers and Bill Fleming. Ace piper Jarlath Henderson produced the whole album, and (along with Seán Óg Graham and the above-mentioned brassers) plays the role of special guest on the finale, which is a more fully scored reworking of Napoleon’s 2.0, a piece from the band’s earlier EP that’s been a highlight of their live set since the beginning.

As all-instrumental albums go, this is a tasty addition to the catalogue, a genial powerhouse of a disc whose well-upholstered music-making is never in danger of becoming sterile or an easy-won slave to virtuosity.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 115 of The Living Tradition magazine.