The Isle of Man is a small island in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland, with a lot of history and an ancient Celtic culture. Barrule is a trio that is celebrating that culture and bring the island’s jigs, reels and old Manx songs to the world. The group consists of fiddler Tomas Callister, guitarist and bouzouki player Adam Rhodes, both Manx natives and leading lights in the current revival of the music scene, and Welsh accordionist Jamie Smith (who also has a Welsh band called Mabon). This is their second album, and it’s a wonderfully lively collection of tunes and songs.
You won’t find a snappier set of tunes than the one that opens this album, dubbed “The Wheel of Fire.” It’s also a good introduction to Manx mythology. The trio takes its name from the island’s central peak, which is said to be the home of Manannán mac Lir, a Celtic sea god who watched over the islands by drawing his cloak around the mountain to hide the isle from intruders. And if any did make it ashore, he’s said to turn himself into the eponymous wheel of fire to drive them off.
At any rate, this set is made up of five tunes that are a great introduction to the band and Manx jigs and reels. It’s a shortish album of 10 tracks, six of them tunes or sets. I think my favorite is the set called “To Dingle With Love,” two trad tunes (“Betsy Baker’s” and “The Wind That Shook The Barley”) and one new one by the accordionist Jamie Smith. Although that opening suite is also superb, as is the closer, a set of six called “The Laxey Reels” that includes one whose Manx title is translated into English as “Daub Grease Upon The Rump Of A Fat Pig.” There are some slow tunes too, including the lovely ballad “Kinnoull” by Manx flautist Peddyr Cubberley; and an instrumental arrangement of the Manx song “Graih Foalsey” or “False Love.” Not a happy one, that.
Did I mention guest musicians? There are a handful, including the well-known Scot Paul McKenna, who sings the stirring “The King Of The Sea,” a traditional encomium to the herring fishery.
And there’s a lovely arrangement of a song known as “Poor William” on which Jamie Smith sings. It’s a tale of a murderous squire who finally gets the tables turned on him by one of his intended female victims. A quite different arrangement of it was also recorded this year by Eliza Carthy & Tim Eriksen on their excellent album Bottle under the title “Castle By The Sea.”
If you’re new to Manx music as I am, Manannan’s Cloak is a great introduction. Barrule has a website. Here’s a fun promotional video about the band and this album.
(Wardfell Records, 2015)