The Living Stream - Don't Give In
Info: Having gotten a great reaction to their first single release back in September- called 'Grand Canal Dock' - The Living Stream return with their eagerly anticipated debut album.
The band formed just over a year ago when Brian Kelly traveled home to Ireland - from his base in East London - to record a handful of tunes with some of Galway's top traditional musicians. As people turned up and plugged in, one by one, a spark was lit. Simple ideas quickly became full songs and that handful of tunes began to feel and sound like an album that had to be made. It was, however, no coincidence that things fell together so quickly - with a hundred and fifty years of musical experience between them, across a wide range of styles, each member came with a musical CV as long as their arm. All of this knowledge combined to create the mature and refined sound that can be heard throughout their music.
Opening with 'Rebel Charm', the new self-titled album from The Living Stream harks back to the very best of traditional Irish folk music, and one thing that is immediately encapsulated by this first track is that they have done a most fine job at putting their own modern-day stamp on that sound. The track itself balances the past aspirations of a nation with it's modern day malaise.
Next up comes last year's single 'Grand Canal Dock', another look at post-crash Ireland. The track is steeped in the classical Irish trad custom with Kelly's vocals, the tin-whistle and mandolin playing in particular harking back to the days of The Dubliners and Planxty in the 70's and 80's, where 'Rebel Charm' packed a defiant punch, this song suitably adopts a more sombre and reflective tone.
The Living Stream - Grand Canal Dock
The tempo rises once again on third track 'Don't Give In' (top stream), the banjo is a joy on this one, and Kelly's vocal performance is warm, sincere and emotive. In a way, whilst distinctly Irish in its sound, the track also veers from time to time to folk influences from further afield, I'm thinking the baroque sounds of 60's London group Pentangle. After another shift in mood on the laid-back 'A Little Light', we come to 'Life in the Eighties', an ode to Ireland's departed emigrants, once again there's a correlation drawn between contemporary circumstances and the equally forced departures of the 1980's at a time of harsh unemployment.
'Indian Summer' is another highlight on the album, melodic and soothing, it rolls with great ease around the ears, long instrumental sequences add to this feeling very nicely as you disappear into the music. On 'Time Machine' The Living Stream execute another wonderfully rousing moment with aplomb, Kelly's vocal dexterity is also showcased here, it's short but punchy, and in many ways captures what they're all about in one place. The album's final two tracks, 'Over The Water' and 'New Land' see TLS meld contemporary folk with traditional very nicely, and on the latter track the sound is beyond sweet, it's a very strong finish to the album, with the tin-whistle playing particularly invigorating, and sounding like a fine backdrop to one of Van Morrison's classic early 70's albums such as Veedon Fleece or Astral Weeks.
History, biographical story-telling, contemporary social commentary and a dash of playful wit all combine alongside skilled musicianship to create one of the finest traditional Irish folk albums of the last few years. The Living Stream's debut album is much more than a strong start, it's the opening salvo over the bow, which I personally hope continues for a long time to come.
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