An album that seems to have slipped under the radar is this fine, fine album from an assembly of some of Ireland’s finest musicians. Supergroup is an oft used, and usually misused term, but looking at the cast list, it is very appropriate here.
The Crannua Collective initially numbered five and grew from a workshop that sought to blend the best of Gaelic traditional music and voices with traditional American roots music. As the project grew momentum, so did the number of musicians involved, until the current ten members were all initiated. Despite the number, this is a quiet, restrained affair, and all the more enchanting for it.
Originating from as diverse regions as Donegal to Kansas, the group has written and recorded twelve songs and tunes of quiet beauty. The material is all original, and yet at times, one needs to check that the songs are not forgotten traditional classics. Ashley Davis is a talent I haven’t come across before but will now seek out. Her voice tops and tails the album. On opener, ‘Are You Going My Way’, she at times sounds like a young Sinead O’Connor. ‘Winter Is Over’ sees the young woman from Kansas sing over lilting guitar, accordion, and violin on a co-write with Mick McAuley.
Moya Brennan’s presence on any project is usually a guarantee of quality and this is no exception. She shines on ‘Géilim Mo Chroí’ and the delightful ‘Cén Taobh den Leaba’. A highlight is the tale of two brothers who emigrated from Ireland only to find themselves on opposite sides of the American civil war. This song sees Mick McAuley and Dave Curley trading lines as they read each other’s letters:
My dearest little brother, it’s with sadness that I write, ’cause word came through our lines today that it’s you I have to fight. That you’re in the rebel army, in the hollow round that hill. That you signed up for the infantry and they trained you up to kill.
Well James, I hate to tell you that what you say is true, I got caught up in this game of war for bread and a pair of shoes. And it’s bullets for the dreamers who sailed for liberty so sharpen up your sabre, it’s war for you and me.
Reminiscent in its message of ‘Green Fields Of France’, yet from differing perspectives, the futility of war is the same. This song perhaps, more than any other, captures the essence of the album, a synergy of old and new creating a hugely impressive body of work. A collective that truly is greater than the sums of its parts.
The Crannua Collective is Moya Brennan, Dave Curley, Ashley Davis, Cormac De Barra, Eamonn De Barra, John Doyle, Colin Farrell, Cathy Jordan, Gawain Mathews, and Mick McAuley. ‘The Crannua Collective’ is available now from all usual outlets.