Guadi Galego's Galician Feminism

lúas de outubro e agosto
Fol 1078

Mention "Celtic lands," and chances are good few will mention Galicia–a northwestern region of Spain that bleeds into northern Portugal. That is unless you come from there, like Guadi Galego, who has devoted much of her musical career exploring its tunes and singing in the Galician language–an Indo-European Romance language that includes Celtic and Germanic vocabulary. For 18 years Galego played bagpipes and sang with Berroguito, an important regional Celtic-influenced band. These days, though, Galego is as apt to champion activist feminism as Celtic culture. For her second solo album, Galego takes up the cause of Galician mothers, whom she views as trapped within a capitalist, patriarchal, macho model of maternity. She's also expanded her musical palette on an album that freely mixes folk melodies, pop rhythms, jazzy torch singing, and arrangements that skirt the borders of theatricality–sometimes within the same song.

The album title translates "Moons of October and August" and pays tribute to the months in which she gave birth to her two sons. Those boys better grow up to be feminists, as Galego puts that spin on everything everywhere. "Matriarchas" was written as homage to the three Mirabal sisters murdered in 1960 for their opposition to Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. (Dominicans often view this as a key moment in the slow transition to democracy. Trujillo was assassinated in 1961, just five months later.)  It's one of Galego's hybridized tunes, one that begins quietly and mournfully, but she uses the considerable power of her voice to build it, add instruments and voices to the mix, and increase the drama. The album's opening track, "Merguillei," is similar in feel—quiet, then big. Is it folk? Pop? More the latter, I think, and that too is intentional. Galego has particular affinity for working women–the ones often pressured to find an impossible balance between work, parenthood, and an outside life that she insists includes the disco. Her drum-looped "Chea de Vida" and "Aromas de Terra" are so much in the pop vein that were they in English you might think them lifted from Robyn's dance club repertoire. But then what does one make of gentle songs such as "Pernoctei" or "O Muro," the first what you might get if you crossed smoky jazz with a flamenco singing; and the latter soulful and subdued? The last song translates "O Wall," and that's perhaps the best way to think of this album. Ms. Galego is no respecter of boundaries, including those dictated by men, commerce, or musical genres.
Rob Weir


Family and Irish Sagas from Sean O' hEanaigh

Séan Ó hÉanaigh
The Tides that Bind Fånaíocht
Cló lar-Chonnacht 002
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With a name like Séan Ó hÉanaigh, d'ye think he might be Irish? hÉanaigh has a distinguished musical pedigree. He was born in Boston to Irish parents who moved the family back to Connemara when Séan was just ten. He literally grew up with music through recordings, live music, the radio, family gatherings, and sing-alongs with his mother, Kate, who collected and compiled songs in a big red notebook. Oh, by the way, hÉanaigh is Irish for Heaney and his uncle was the legendary Galway sean nós singer Joe Heaney (1919-84). In his youth, hÉanaigh has made a fair mount of music on his own, though this is his first album since 1992. Since then he's produced recordings, promoted Irish music, and co-hosted a radio show with Scots Gaelic singer Mary Ann Kennedy.

The Tides that Bind is apt on all levels. The cover sports a picture of the boat that returned his family to Connemara in 1966, and many of the songs are plucked from his mother's notebook or learnt from his uncle. There are also three English language songs, four originals, and two in Scots Gaelic that he learned from Kennedy. Kennedy appears on this album to play harp and sing backup vocals, as do other well-regarded musicians, including Allan Henderson (Blazin' Fiddles), Blair Douglas (Runrig), and Findlay Napier (Back of the Moon). But this is a wistful album, not one that spotlights virtuoso performances. hÉanaigh  has some miles on his voice, but he uses that to his advantage to evoke a homespun feel.  Akin to an intimate house concert, hÉanaigh wends his way through some Irish love songs learned from his mother ("Buachaill Caol Ard," "Brid Thomáís Mhurchadha") and intersperses change of mood and pace songs. For instance, a hÉanaigh original, "Óro mo Stórín," a regretful song of lost love, segues to "Time are Changing," his cheery English language song about a relationship that has endured the twists and turns of life's paths. He follows the well-known tragic song "A Nobleman's Wedding" (learned from Joe Heaney) with a bouncy Irish song in which he imagines the mayhem that ensues in a mix of a soldier, a tailor, and a lass. My personal favorite, though, is the more sombre "Bóthar An  Bhláth Buí" in which hÉanaigh muses upon the sorrows that lie amidst the rocky ruins of old cottages and abandoned fields. He also ends on a doleful note, his cover of "The Banks of the Lee" (which, of course, he learned from his uncle). So there it is: love, joy, and sorrow, the ebb and flow of life–the tides that bind. Rob Weir


The Onlies: Young Band on the Rise

Long Before Light
Soft Day Records 003

Within recent memory, grizzled vets of the folk music scene were worried that both performers and audiences were getting too gray for the future health of the music. These days, there is such a wealth of new talent that observers wonder how all these promising upstarts can attract attention in an increasingly crowded field. This is especially vexing given that so many new bands have gravitated to bluegrass and old-time music. Sociologists can probably make a case that nostalgia is attractive when the future is uncertain, but I prefer the simpler explanation that young people are attracted to bluegrass energy, the rhythms of old-time music, and the time-honed gravitas of trad. Enter the Seattle-based trio (and occasional quartet) The Onlies, who specialize in all three and share an additional love of Celtic music.

If there is a single prerequisite for gaining attention, it's that you need to be very good at what you do. Music is like top-drawer spirits; it gets better over time. But wait! The Onlies–guitarist Leo Shannon, fiddler/banjoist Riley Calagno, and fiddler Sami Braman– are still in high school. True, but all three have played together since they were in grade school. And lord knows that they share good role models: Darol Anger, Liz Carroll, Bruce Molsky, Alaisdair Fraser, Brittany Haas, Tommy Jarrell…. Moreover, if the fiddle-centric Long Before Light is any indication, they already possess more poise than many of their elders. The Onlies exercise their interest in Celtic music on "Moll Ha' Penny," a set of two Irish tunes, and again on "Freddy's," a New Breton delicacy written by the late John Morris Rankin. We can also hear Tommy Jarrell's influence on "Cheese Closet," a deliberately raw tune penned by Shannon. He also does a nice job on the old-time standard "Jubilee," a song popularized by Doc Watson. But one of the one precocious things about this album is that 60% of its fifteen tracks are originals. That list includes Colcagno's "Skipping Stones," a lovely little song onto which Braman appends "North Fork," a pick-'em-up-lively fiddle tune of her own composition. Together with sweet harmonies it makes for one of those earworms you're happy to invite into your head. It's emblematic of most of the selections on the album: joyous, earnest, and nimble. Let me address the gorilla in the room, though. Does one also hear youthful inexperience? Mostly no, though there is, of course, room for growth. The harmony singing is much better than the leads at present, and a few of the tunes could benefit from being more adventuresome. Sure. Now ask yourself what you were doing in high school! Then listen to this CD and repeat after me: "The kids are alright. The kids are alright….."
Rob Weir

Here's a YouTube live performance.