Saturday, 2 December 2017

Album: cua - Songs of the Hollow


cua - Waco

Info: John Davidson, Shane Booth & Ros O'Meara bring together dynamic and contrasting instrumentation and vocal arrangements. The group have an expansive acoustic soundtrack blending guitars, fiddle, bouzouki, percussion and 3 part harmony arrangements to create a world music folk styling that the group call Atlantean. cua have steadily built a reputation and following for their engaging, passionate and highly original performances. The cua live experience has been compared to the intricacies of Planxty melodies combined with the harmony skills of Crosby, Stills and Nash.

The high quality musicianship on cua's Songs of the Hollow is immediately apparent on opening track 'Atlantic Ocean', the sinuous method applied to mandolin, guitar and fiddle feels both free-flowing whilst admirably reflecting a craftsmanship which has been perfected over many years. This introduction both harks back to the peak of traditional folk with a slightly blues-rock edge, a more energised version of Pentangle meeting Free's Fire and Water, and of course developing into a gripping contemporary Irish trad mould.

That energy carries through to third track 'She Has Me', in all of the best ways a quaint old world dirge of love, we get the first inkling of how tight their a capella harmonies are, and the fiddle-playing is joyful, leaving a lasting mark. 'Hot Blooded' creates an image of migrant Irish bedding down in a rural town in America in the 1800's, there is also a swing towards early 60's pop-rock in the vocals, á la The Beatles or Donovan.

cua get down to bare bones on 'The Other Man', perhaps a reflective take on the malaise in Ireland over the last decade with Martin Niemöller's famous quote when interned by the Nazi's springing to mind. If you don't stand up for the weakest in your society, or against injustice, there will come the day when there's no one left to stand up for you.

Starting out like something you would expect to find on a Wes Anderson soundtrack, 'Black Dog' is theatrical and has that medieval court sensibility, the developing frenetic pace is dizzying and fulfilling all at one. The Crosby, Stills & Nash Americana influence lands on 'I Blame You', it's a beautifully tender piece which, if you heard it on the radio, you would swear it was directly from their era.

'Waco' is a big highlight in the album's latter half, the simple hand-clap beat and shaker percussion proving bigger than the sum of their parts. The harmonies are amazing here, you'd be doing well to hear any better elsewhere, it's the perfect exemplar of cua's talents. 'Kings and Queens' is a delightful homage to past times in its delivery, a better word for intricate is required here but it eludes me. Songs of the Hollow closes with 'Mother Earth', and the trio bring the best of Irish traditional music home to roost, it would be a deaf ear that couldn't admire and be moved in some way by the track, the jig is literally up and out of the bag from the 2:42 mark. 

There is a new wave occurring right now where acts steeped in traditional music, melding Irish, American and British influences, and infusing them with an array of different genres, are shifting from a singular audience to a wider one. Whilst it's not the first time that this has happened in Ireland, with groups like Planxty, Horslips and Dé Dannan breaching the void in the seventies, it feels like the net is being cast further afield and with more frequency right now, and it's all thanks to the innovation of acts like cua.

Songs of the Hollow will be available to purchase and stream shortly so keep on eye on their website and social media platforms below.

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