Friday, June 02, 2023

Lossan: Ruth Keggin & Rachel Hair explore music from the Isle of Man

Lossan: that’s a word in Manx Gaelic that means shimmer, flicker, particles of light in darkness such as you might glimpse when looking at light reflecting on water at night.

It is also the title that Ruth Keggin and Rachel Hair have chosen for their duo album.

“It felt very fitting to title the album this way,” Ruth said. “The word also has connections to sea and sky and it’s these things that connect us both and are so important to our homelands.”

Ruth is a singer, native to the Isle of Man, and an artist who has played a part in the resurgence of interest in the Manx Gaelic language in recent times.

Rachel Hair’s instrument is the harp. She is from Scotland, currently based in Glasgow. Her music has taken her as far afield as Japan, the United States, and Australia. She’s been visiting the Isle of Man for a number of years to teach and play.

Ruth and Rachel met more than a decade ago at an after hours session one night on Man. Off and on since then, they have been playing together, including a gig at the Edinburgh International Harp Festival.

“For years now I have been inspired by the culture on the Isle of Man and its music, song, and language,” Rachel said. “I’m so grateful to those involved in the cultural scene on the island for welcoming me.”

Ruth’s and Rachel’s collaboration on Lossan adds to the creativity of Manx music in both song and melody -- and there are a few tunes from Scotland and Ireland in their set list as well, tunes which help illuminate connections among Celtic traditions, and the work of those who bring those traditions forward.

The whole of Lossan is well worth repeated listenings; indeed the balance of intricacy and simplicity that marks the duo’s arrangements and choices of music readily invites that.

That said, tracks to listen out for especially include

Graih Foalsey is a traditional song from the Isle of Man about about a lover who has proved false to her man. If you know other Celtic tales of false lovers you might hear hints of those in word and melody both. In this tale, though man knows of the circumstance, he remains hopeful. That likely explains why the song is reflective in tone rather than angry or sad It’s a piece Ruth and Rachel each enjoy performing when they are working on their own, so it made a natural choice to include in this duo project.

For the Tri Nation Harp Jigs Set, Rachel features on her own with a set that moves from a traditional Scottish tune to a Manx one to one from Ireland; Ruth similarly has a track on her own with an a capella take on the traditional Manx song Arrane Saveenagh, a song which has similar lyrics in the same vein as Rock-a-bye Baby.

You might at this point be wondering a bit about Manx Gaelic and Manx music and where they come from. They’re Celtic: if you have Scottish Gaelic or Irish a few words might catch your ear .

The Isle of Man lies in the Irish Sea, about halfway between Ireland and Scotland. Through history it has had connections and influences to the cultures of both countries, and to the Nordic lands also, as it made a good way station for traveling Vikings.

The Isle of Man has remained its own country, though, and being an island a bit out on the sea, has developed its own languages and culture from all those elements.

Another set to listen out for on Lossan is Eubonia Soilshagh, which comprises a lively collection of drinking songs, several with trad Manx lyrics set to contemporary melodies by Manx musician Annir Kissack. This is also a track on which guests join the duo: Adam Brown on bodhran, Adam Rhodes on bouzouki, and Isla Callister on fiddle.

The whole of Lossan offers a way to explore an aspect of Celtic music and Gaelic song that’s perhaps lesser known than others.

It also offers a master class in how singer and instrumentalist can work together to explore song and melody.

All that comes together especially in another track: Arrane Oie Vie, also known as the Good Night Song. It too is a traditional Manx song, one which is often used to end an evening of music.

Ruth Keggin and Rachel Hair have chosen this song to draw their duo album Lossan to a close, as well.

There’s much more to enjoy on Lossan. Take time with what Ruth Keggin and Rachel hair have created; you will be well rewarded.

Ruth and Rachel each have other albums in release, which you may find out about at their respective websites.
For English language lyrics of the songs on Lossan, go to the media tab of Ruth’s website.

Photographs of Ruth and Rachel by Amore du Plessis Photography

You may also wish to see:
A Celtic autumn celebration on the Isle of Man
Alterum from Julie Fowlis, with songs in Scottish Gaelic
Thar Toinn from Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh with songs in Irish

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Monday, April 24, 2023

Scotland's music: Breabach celebrates nature and hope with Fàs

Fàs: in Gaelic, it is word that means growth, developing, and sprouting.

It is also the name Breabach have chosen for their recent album. Both musically and in outlook, those ideas are good descriptions for what they’ve been exploring

The music most often holds connection to the natural world and ideas of change. That parallels a bit what is going on with Breabach’s musical evolution, too: staying true to their love of and expertise with tradition, they continue to take tradition forward and add to it in thoughtful and creative ways.

The five members of Breabach are well qualified to do this individually. One of the fine things about listening to the tracks on Fàs (and seeing the band live, too, which you need to do if ever you have the opportunity) is enjoying their excellence at collaboration, too.

Breabach are Calum MacCrimmon on Highland pipes, whistles, bouzouki, vocals; James Lindsay on double bass, Moog, vocals; Ewan Robertson, who plays acoustic and electric guitar in addition to singing; Megan Henderson on fiddle and vocals, and newest member of the band (this is his first time recording with the group) Conal McDonagh, on Highland pipes, uilleann pipes, whistles, and vocals.

The ten tracks on Fàs find the band offering a fine mix of trad and original music, with song in both English and Gaelic, balanced with a good range of tunes as well.

The opening set, The Old Collection, holds three traditional tunes along with one composed by Calum. It offers good introduction to the band’s way with honoring tradition as well as adding their own spark. That’s lightly done, adding just a t touch of something a bit different to the band’s imaginative work.

Part of that spark comes out now and then through touches of synth from guest Keir Long and percussion from Inge Thomson, too -- just enough to add in to mix at times. Thomson produced the album, and given her fine ear for connection electronic and acoustic elements in her other work, it’s no surprise she does it well here.

Ewan Roberson wrote and takes lead voice on Revolutions. which he remarks was inspired by reading about renewable energy and making a visit to a wind farm. “A love song to a wind turbine,” he calls it. It is that, and there’s more thoughtful stuff going on in its lyrics, too and in the video the band has made to go along as well.

Megan takes lead for the Gaelic song Eadar An Dà Bhraigh, written by her brother Ewen Henderson. It’s to celebrate the sustaining of a woodland ecosystem just south of the Cairngorms. That might not at first sound a likely subject for a lovely song, but in the writing of Ewen and the voices and instruments of Breabach, it becomes just that.

Another favorite is the set Brog to the Future, which comprises three tunes celebrating the promises of nature and of the coming generations. There’s one from Cape Breton fiddle player Kinnon Beaton, one from Megan, and one from Conal, to make a lively and engaging set.

Megan composed the title tune after taking part in a Fridays for Future march with Ewan and their young daughter at the COP26 climate meeting in Glasgow. Brog means shoe in Gaelic, and Conal’s tune also has to do with shoes, while Kinnon’s is a reel for a school graduating class. Steps to the future, perhaps.

Another excellent set is Dear Green, with tunes composed by Megan in honor of Glasgow and its green spaces, and by James in honor of the Global Seed Vault in Norway, which also provides hope for future. Not subjects every musician would choose or would be able to bring off, but these two, along with other band members and guests Long and Thomson, do it with class.

Class is a fair description all that’s going on in Fàs, There’s the title track, which brings together trad and contemporary in good style, Megan’s fine singing in a song sourced frm Cape Breton, a cover of a Jim Malcolm/John McLellan piece, and a march from Calum.

To draw the album to a close and to draw the threads of ideas of nature and future together, Breabach offer song from Calum -- he takes lead voice, too -- called Changing World. This thoughtful and thought provoking piece was inspired by Calum’s reflections during lockdown, looking out his window and seeing natuee flourishing in the absence of human activity.

Fàs is an album weLl worth the listening, worth repeated listening. Every time you do so you will hear new colors, voices, and ideas. It is a great next step for the top class musicians of Breabach.

...and in case you were wondering about sustainability, the disc comes in a sleeve of FSC certified stock, printed using all vegetable inks.

You may also wish to see
Another album from Breabach, Frenzy of the Meeting
A video of the title track is part of this story at Wandering Educators Music for the new year: possibilities of hope
A look back at one of Inge Thomson’s concerts at Celtic Connections
Another recording that celebrates nature, The Woods from Hamish Napier

-->Music Road is reader supported . Your support for Music Road is welcome and needed. If you are able to chip in, here is a way to do that, through PayPal. Note that you do not have to have a PayPal account to do this. Thank you.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Ireland's music: 6 ways to discover ideas and stories you may not have heard

Ireland is a rather small country, as countries go.

As the time in spring around Saint Patrick’s day on 17 March reminds, though, through the creativity and courage of its sons and daughters Ireland has had and continues to have impact across the world.

At Music Road, we’ve been mainly concerned with how that happens through music.

Whatever aspect of Ireland you celebrate, and however you may be doing that, music goes along.

I encourage you to take this Patrick season to explore the music of Ireland beyond what’s often shared this time of year.

Slam-your-mug-on-the-table droning songs have their place, as do cry in your cup of tea sentimental pieces, fast flying jigs to which to dance, and light as air new age tinged music.

They all, in deed have their places in Irish music.

There is more to the music of Ireland, and the creativity of Irish musicians, though. There wisdom of an Ireland that is both ancient and new.

Here are several ways to help you explore these ideas.

From Altan The Gap of Dreams will take you Donegal and beyond

Connections between Ireland and Scotland in music, language, and story : Allt from Julie Fowlis, Eamon Doorley, Zoe Conway, and John McIntyre.

Fiddle, Flute, Guitar: 3 Ways to Explore Ireland

Northern Ireland: 4 Songs to Help You Understand

Discover ways Karan Casey, Cathie Ryan, Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, and Cara Dillon tell Ireland’s stories, and their own

Music and Community:Stories of Ireland

...and coming up later this year, I’ve another project to tell you about that will expand on these ideas. Stay tuned!

-->Music Road is reader supported . Your support for Music Road is welcome and needed. If you are able to chip in, here is a way to do that, through PayPal. Note that you do not have to have a PayPal account to do this. Thank you.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2023

The long story: music across time

Music connects us to each other.

It can also be a way to connet across time and place.

These images may help you think about this. You may also want to listen to the music on
Thar Toinn/Seaborne from Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh
The Farthest Wave from Cathie Ryan
Alterum from Julie Fowlis
Dialogues from Su-a Lee
The Woods from Hamish Napier

It has been a bit quiet here of late; there will be more say about upcoming and current projects coming along.

In the meanwhile, have a look and listen to those stories and albums noted above, and take a look throught the archives here at Music Road too. A good lot of music and ideas to explore within.

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Saturday, December 31, 2022

New year's eve, and into a new year: 3 songs for company

At the turning of the year, thoughts and ideas of change, of regret, of hope, and many more things arise.

Accept them all, send the ones which need to go, as a friend of mine says, up in the smoke of a new year’s blaze.

Embrace the good ideas, the community, the hope.

With all that in mind, music to accompany you in to the new year

Here’s one to honor looking back and looking forward, and to honor the hope found in community. It is called Just a Lot of Folk, sung by Olivia Newton-John. You will find on an album from the early folk/country days of Olivia’s career, called Clearly Love.

Thrift is a plant that grows at the edge of the sea in Scotland, hanging on through all sorts of weather and circumstance. The song Thrift celebrate hope, persistence, and other good qualities such as that. Karine Polwart sings lead, and in this video you will see her with her musical friends who form the Spell Songs singers: Rachel Newton, Beth Porter, Sekou Keita, Jim Molyneux, Kris Drever, and Julie Fowlis. Engineer/producer Andy Bell, part of the collaboration, is there too. You will find the song on the album Spell Songs II: Let the Light In.

It may have been inspired by the Orkney legend of a witch who sold fair winds to sailors, but...Jeana Leslie, who wrote the song Fair Winds and sings lead, and her friends who form the band Fara have turned it into a song of hope. Kristan Harvey, Caitriona Price, and Rory Matheson -- the other musicians who make up Fara-- join Jeana on the song, which you will find on their album Energy Islands.

Band members tell the backstory of the song ...

You may also wish to see
More about the album Spell Songs II:let the Light In
At Wandering Educators, Music for peace, undertanding, and connection (there’s another Spell Songs video in this, too)
The album Laws of Motion from Karine Polwart,
Thoughtful songs from Ireland’s Cara Dillon: Wanderer.

-->Music Road is reader supported . Your support for Music Road is welcome and needed. If you are able to chip in, here is a way to do that, through PayPal. Note that you do not have to have a PayPal account to do this. Thank you.

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Saturday, December 24, 2022

Christmas eve, Christmas day

Christmas eve. A long night into

Christmas day.

As you find moments to pause, to reflect, to celebrate even through dark times. here are songs to explore.

“...A planet dancing slow, a tree upon a hill.
Star upon the snow, straw against the chill...”

Words which recur in Straw against the Chill. You will find its story sung by Kathy Mattea, on her album Joy for Christmas Day. Among those who join in is Joanie Madden, whose whistle and flute playing you have met along the music road here before, as she is a founding member of the band of Cherish the Ladies.

Had you noticed that there’s not a mention of a cat at the stable in Bethlehem? Odds there was at laast one, though. Shannon Heaton imagined a story of the cat’s part in Christmas eve, which she recorded with her husnad Matt on their winter themed album Fine Winter’s Night,

Emily Smith braids the challelges and uplighting aspects of Christmas in her song Find Hope. It is recrded on her album Songs for Christmas. On this video Emily’s husband and musical partner Jamie McClennan joins her, as does guitarist Anna Massie, and a baby who would not sleep. At this Christmas, that baby is now a happy primary school student.

Wishing you peace at this season.

-->Music Road is reader supported . Your support for Music Road is welcome and needed. If you are able to chip in, here is a way to do that, through PayPal. Note that you do not have to have a PayPal account to do this. Thank you.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Fourth Week in Advent

Fourth week in Advent.

Christmas draws near.

There is anticipation -- and thoughts of all must be done, that is still undone, before we make it to Christmas eve and Christmas day arise. So do thoughts what or who we will miss, and what might not go at all as planned.

The fourth week in Advent is a good time for reset and reflection, even through all those sorts of thoughts, and all the activities that come up planned and unplanned.

May the creativity of these musicians help you keep stillness and hope at this time, whatever your situation may be.

From Cherish the Ladies, the song The Castle of Dromore, with Heidi Talbot singing lead. You will find it on their first holiday album On Christmas Night.

Cherish have two more Christmas albums out now. Their guitarist Mary Coogan ahs one of her own as well.

Side note: there are at least two castles of Dromore in Ireland that I know of, maybe more...I think this song refers to the castle in Clare.

A vintage recording of Kathy Mattea with the contemporary Christmas song Mary Did You Know?

You will find it on her album Good News, and she has another fine album for the season as well, called Joy for Christmas Day.

This video has visible captions of the lyrics, in case that’s of use to know

From Carrie Newcomer comes the song The Season of Mercy. It’s not a winter holiday song, but then again, it is. You will find it on her album The Beautiful Not Yet.

Whether Christmas is your holiday or not, give a listen to the song Waitin’ on Mary, from Gretchen Peters. You will find it on her album Northern Lights.

May the creativity of these artist be good companion to your reflections in the fourth week of Advent this year, and beyond.

-->Music Road is reader supported . Your support for Music Road is welcome and needed. If you are able to chip in, here is a way to do that, through PayPal. Note that you do not have to have a PayPal account to do this. Thank you.

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