YE VAGABONDS - Nine Waves
Ye Vagabonds are Carlow-born but now Dublin-based brothers, Brían and Diarmuid Mac Gloinn, who both sing and between them play guitars, bouzouki, mandolin, mandola and various other stringy things. This is their third full album, and they are joined by a handful of other musicians, including Alain McFadden, a regular touring member of the group, on harmonium.
Their last album, the very well received The Hare’s Lament, consisted of traditional songs. This one’s slightly different in that it sees them introduce three of their own songs, along with short improvised musical interludes between some of the tracks. The accompaniment feels more ‘produced’ in places than on their previous album, which felt slightly more straightforward in approach – perhaps more as you might hear them ‘live’. But here, for example, the opening song, An Island, about the island of Arranmore in Co Donegal, uses the instruments to create a soundscape reminiscent of the ocean, seabirds etc. It’s very effective, creating an image in the mind to complement the song, and works well.
Lord Gregory on the other hand, from the singing of Elizabeth Cronin, has more simple traditional instrumentation. The sound is reminiscent of early Planxty, and yet bang up to date, and the singing is sublime – you really can’t beat sibling harmonies, and this pair is amongst the best. This is the first of three traditional songs here. The second, Her Mantle So Green, is also treated well. The lads know how to communicate these ballads in a way where the story is foremost and not hidden behind clever instrumentation or arrangement (although there is clever instrumentation and arrangement here, without doubt). Máire Bhán – in Irish – again from Arranmore Island, continues the sea theme and showcases the brothers’ lovely vocal style, with gentle decoration, but not too showy – just right.
Their own songs are of good quality – the aforementioned An Island, and later Blue Is The Eye, also with a sea connection. Go Away And Come Back Hither is an emotive song, this time about longing and fulfilment, and how, often, when people are far away from us, we feel the need of them more (truly a lockdown theme if ever there was one): “The very one you long for is the only one you lack.” It is delivered beautifully.
Another development since the last album is the addition of some tune sets. The Humours Of Glin features sweet, rhythmic mandolin alongside the equally rhythmic and very distinctive concertina of Cormac Begley. This bouncy jig really adds some lift and light to the mix, and creates a contrast to the songs, which are quite contemplative in mood. Later, The Munster Jig and Tell Her I Am do the same thing.
I really enjoyed this album. I hope the lads don’t go too far down the ‘improv’ route though, because, while it worked well to create the atmosphere here, it isn’t where they shine. They shine when they sing – good songs, thoughtfully accompanied - that’s when they stand head and shoulders above almost everybody else, and there’s plenty of that to enjoy here.
This review appeared in Issue 145 of The Living Tradition magazine