Saturday, August 27, 2011

Review - Beoga, How to Tune a Fish


Compass Records

Right from the first reel of HOW TO TUNE A FISH you know you’re dealing with something very different. A slippery customer, to continue the fishy puns with which their sleeve notes are stuffed. They are one of those bands that lurk in the murky waters beyond genre. Oh look, another pun.  The band originally formed after a heated ‘jamming’ session at the All-Ireland Fleadh and they have gone on to release four albums together (this being the fourth). They are made up of Damian McKee Seán Óg Graham, on twin duelling accordians, pianist Liam Bradley and four times All-Ireland bodhrán champion Eamon Murray with the later addition of Niamh Dunne’s smooth and mature vocals. Eclectic, intimidating skilled, Beogo have spent a long time honing their sound; it is music of many influences from straight out Irish Folk to Americana and the quirky Vaudeville performance. All of this helps them to live up to their name, ‘Beoga’, which, in translation from Gaelic, turns out to be ‘lively’.

The album starts with a titular track, a reel, an original composition like many of the album’s offerings. The fiddle introduces itself slowly, before being backed up with some sly piano chords, again tentative. As one accordion joins them a reel is set up. If there is one thing this band aims to do however, it is to constantly surprise the listener. Cue the second accordion joining/challenging the first, increasing the tempo of the song as they then head through a dizzy mixture of styles from something almost jazz-like to the more traditional. Never a dull moment.

To the craftsmanship of the instrumentalists is added Dunne’s voice. As I said previously, it is incredibly smoky and mature, a real addition to the band if not just for its depth. However, appearing after the first two tracks of HOW TO TUNE, both reels, in ‘Home Cooking’ she seems a little out of place, like a babysitter sent in to look after some precocious teenagers. This feeling soon disappears, however, as the lyrical bridge between the verse and chorus (‘Hear the dinner bell…’) is joined by a cow bell, and you can hear the smiling in her voice. When we hear her next, her undeniable vocal talent having been paraded just enough, it is in a track somehow more appropriate to the band’s feel. As she leads her bandmates through a rendition of the old Vaudeville classic ‘Come in Out of The Rain’ (originally recorded by Ada Jones) you can’t help yourself, in turn, cracking a smile. Katy Browse

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