Album Reviews - Reviews

Landless – L​ú​ireach

Landless is Lily Power, Méabh Meir, Ruth Clinton and Sinéad Lynch. Lúireach is the follow-up to the quartet’s 2018 album Bleaching Bones. When translated from the original Gaelic, its title can mean a breastplate or protective coat, or a hymn or prayer for protection. It’s an apt title. The album features 10 songs, many about strong women, that explore themes of “melancholy, love, death and mystery,” performed by four equally powerful voices that envelop each other without restriction of movement. Dublin-based Landless perform traditional and contemporary folk songs with sparse accompaniment.

While it would be remiss to disregard the presence of their local peers (Lúireach is produced by long-time Lankum collaborator and ØXN member John ‘Spud’ Murphy), in Sinead Lynch’s own words, “The traditional music scene was alive and kicking long before we arrived. Perhaps there was a generation gap where the Celtic Tiger took hold and people were too busy with flip phones and tracker mortgages, but it’s always been there.” In so many words, to call new Irish folk music a movement or even a revival is inaccurate. Folk music has been explored and has evolved for centuries. What we’re getting now are just the newest forms.

On Lúireach, these minimalist instrumental arrangements – whether a whispering trombone on ‘The Newry Highwayman’ or sparse piano keys on ‘The Fisherman’s Wife’, or the subtle string drones throughout – imbue the album with the tension and dread that has become Murphy’s calling card. However, they allow the voices of Power, Meir, Clinton and Lynch to soar beautifully and defiantly, across these 10 songs that subvert the role of women as passive love interests in traditional music, both in lyrics and in performance.

Their take on the Orkney ballad, ‘The Grey Selkie of Sule Skerry’, swells with pride and power, while the vocal harmonies grapevine around each other deftly, reaching impossibly lofty heights, for example, while ‘The Fisherman’s Wife’ focuses on the difficulties of the titular subject’s home life. ‘Lúireach Bhríde,’ an RTÉ commissioned original, is an ode to the Celtic goddess Brigid, often associated with wisdom, poetry, healing and protection. “From loss comes clarity like a cloak / A butter wedge, a handful of salt / Silk cloths to shield the newly born.” An arresting sentiment, on an arresting album, delivered with might and main. Danny Kilmartin

is a Dublin-based writer, contributing to the likes of HeadStuff, Eject and Goldenplec