Sunday, 20 March 2016

Album: Kern - False Deceiver

Kern False Deceiver

KERN - Leaving

Info: KERN is a contemporary folk band from County Louth, Ireland, blending the driving uilleann pipes and poignant whistles of Brendan McCreanor with the dynamic fiddle playing of Barry Kieran and the dark, authoritative voice and guitar of SJ McArdle. The trio released their debut album, False Deceiver, earlier this month and have been touring incessantly since with their latest show this afternoon in Club na Múinteoirí on Parnell Square.

As unaccustomed to trad-based folk as I am, shamefully given my alma mater produced the likes of The Hothouse Flowers, Kíla and many more, I know what I like, and when it strikes a chord with me it can have a spine-tingling effect. False Deceiver opens with the full on tradfest that is 'Misty', an energetic and pulsating instrumental performance from the band, the album's title appropriately coming in to play here if you presume from this point that the rest of the LP is going to follow a strict and narrow line musically. 

Second track 'Leaving' (above) steers straight toward folky waters, the soft fiddle playing and acoustic guitar plucking combined with McArdle's deep yet gentle voice are all combined perfectly with the pipe playing to create an almost ambient and moving atmosphere. There's more than a hint of some of The Waterboys' more stripped down tracks here as well, 'The Stolen Child' from Fisherman's Blues springs to mind.

KERN - Ale

'The Hard Wind' enters story-telling mode and reflects on the travails and hard decisions faced by Irish soldiers who fought in The Great War, still a hot topic 100 years later, many of these men were seen as traitors to their country and treated with contempt upon their return. Though they would have argued from a political perspective that it would aid the cause of Home Rule according to the likes of John Redmond, but there was also an economic necessity involved, a conundrum condensed into the story of one mans choices very ably; 'Your brother got the farm, so you took the boat, and the hat and gun, and you left a note, saying Mammy; "Ever out to war I'll float, on the hard wind" / You threw your lot in as a volunteer, joined up with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, and within an hour you had a new career, in the hard wind...'

Irish history obviously plays a large part in influencing the themes visited by Kern, again evidenced on 'Rocks of Bonnie Gibraltar', this time a tale of exile driven by love. By the time you reach sixth track 'Louth Set' a pattern has emerged on the album with the trio evenly mixing trad-based instrumental tracks with folk ballads. An homage to their hometown, 'Louth Set' showcases McCreanor's uileann-pipe playing and Kieran's fiddle with aplomb, irrespective of whether one is a fan of the genre or not, nobody could but admire the skill and dexterity involved in playing both at such a pace as they reach a crescendo in the final minute. 

There's no sign of False Deceiver running out of steam as it reaches it's end, a highlight for me being 'Haggard Floor', the vocals are commanding as they paint vivid pictures for the listener, and the slightly off-tune fiddle add a reflective despair to the mood of the song which is beautiful to say the least. 'Ale' (above) then comes along straight after and provides a moment where Kern have decided to give it a right lash, a calm build-up explodes into a frenzy of guitar, bodhrán, fiddle and pipes, packed into just over three minutes. The mix of two styles I alluded to earlier come together fittingly on the album's final track, 'William Taylor / The Tempest' as folk tale makes way for another enjoyable instrumental reel to close off False Deceiver.

Interestingly traditional Irish music has become more and more a staple of the average Irish music fans diet over the last few decades, infusing itself across many genres such as prog-rock (Horslips), alternative rock (The Frames), folk (The Pogues) to name but a few, to the point where it's now fully embedded, culminating in The Gloaming's self-titled album winning album of the year at the Choice Awards in 2014. Of all the genres though, folk music and trad are merriest of bedfellows, and bands such as Kern are fusing both to near-perfection. Without harping on about it, as a bit of an outsider when it comes to contemporary trad-folk music, and being far, far from an expert, I found False Deceiver completely up my alley, both in terms of appreciation and enjoyment, and I'm certain I won't be alone in that conclusion.

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