Simply as an artist, simply as someone who is trying to move other people, what is it that you can do that no one else can do? Thomas Bartlett

Since the emergence of The Gloaming as a collective in 2011, Martin Hayes (fiddle), Dennis Cahill (guitar), Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh (Hardanger d’Amore), Iarla Ó Lionáird (voice) and Thomas Bartlett (piano) have captured the imagination of the audience worldwide, recently selling out Dublin’s National Concert Hall for five consecutive nights last February/March 2016. Released on Brassland (US) / Real World Records (rest of the world) on 26 February 2016 last, The Gloaming 2 is the band’s much anticipated second album.

The Gloaming 2 (2016) - Artwork ©
The Gloaming 2 (2016) – Artwork ©

What is immediately striking with The Gloaming’s second offering is the constant acoustic layering of the repertoire. Old song lyrics are seamlessly harmonised with new music, a jig rhythm morphs into a reel, a traditional song is unexpectedly paired with an old jig etc. all establishing a wonderful and consistent balance throughout the album.

The same goes with the instrumentation – every songs and tunes are carefully arranged for the ensemble to accommodate the range of instruments and their perpetual interplay. Dennis Cahill either introduces tunes on the guitar or backs them up with his trademark subdued accompaniment, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh’s Hardanger fiddle acts either as melodic counterpoint to or plays in unison (sometimes an octave lower) with Martin Hayes’ fiddle while Iarla Ó Lionáird’s strong voice weaves a colourful tapestry of songs old and new.

“The Pilgrim’s Song”, the very first track of the album perhaps encapsulates best the “lateral thinking” approach to the entire project. Introduced by sparse piano and guitar, the song borrows extracts from two poems by Seán Ó Ríordáin (1916 – 1977) and is interspersed by the “Touch me if you dare” reel, a tune that features frequently in traditional sessions, before finishing up with a contemporary coda.

But as with many other very well-known tunes played on the album, all musicians manage to reach the very essence of the music with renewed interest and creative zest. Noting that “this video captures the actual performance of the track at Real World Studios that features on the album” further underlines the incredible freshness of the overall sound on the entire album.

I can now see each piece of music as a distinct expression of feeling […] There is a joyfulness in it – and in some cases, it feels almost a little euphoric here and there […] And I think there’s a lot of childlike simplicities in it. I think learning to play very simply and not to be afraid to play in an innocent and vulnerable way – in other words not playing as if there was a point to be proven about how one plays. Martin Hayes

This “childlike simplicity” is even reflected with the inclusion of “Cucanandy”, a “dangling song” traditionally used to bounce a baby to sleep which Iarla Ó Lionáird learnt from his great aunt. The song is beautifully paired here with the jig “Paidín Ó Raifeartaigh”.

If the music is grounded in the Irish instrumental and sean-nós traditions, there are stunning forays into modern classical composition and contemporary singing influenced by sean-nós.

Having already collaborated in the recent past with Sufjan Stevens, Glen Hansard or Antony and the Johnsons amongst many others, American pianist Thomas Bartlett is a key arranger and producer of the album. “Mrs Dwyer” is an unusual hornpipe which Martin Hayes already recorded with his father in 1990 on The Shores of Lough Graney – originally released as a tape and re-issued in 2011 as a CD. Thomas Bartlett’s stunning instrumental break on that song somewhat echoes the music of Nils Frahm and sheds a fantastic new light on the traditional hornpipe.

And if three of the songs on the album are traditional, the other three are essentially new creations based on existing lyrics but with new music written and arranged by The Gloaming.

A coherent and spirited blending of styles, The Gloaming 2 gradually reveals itself as an enchanting album and a true delight for the senses.