cua – Songs of the Hollow

Album Review | Self Release | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5

Tight three voice harmonies as rich and sharp as anything that came out of Laurel Canyon CSN, razor sharp instrumental folk music that manages to be part Celtic, part Balkan and part Hot Quintet of The Hot Club of Paris. Unaccompanied singing with the vim and social comment of Coope Boyes and Simpson and good time music with the lilt and roll of The Saw Doctors. cua (no capital letter at the start) is the sound of three multi-talented musicians and singers playing together and the ambience of the room that they are recorded in, vital raw and real. But beneath the deceptive surface of the sea that is cua there are depths and riptides to draw you in and carry off the unwary. cua themselves, from Laois in Ireland, describe their music as Atlantean, inspired by the history, landscape and people of the Atlantic areas. So that explains those rich West Coast vocal harmonies and the links to Bluegrass and American Roots music. Irish economic migrants took the music to America and cua bring it all back home again. “Atlantic Cross”, the strong album opener beautifully mashes spiritual Americana with the best of infectious Irish folk music driven by fine fiddle playing. This is not good timey diddly music though, like the best of Folk there is a darkness at its core, its ‘pretty’ surface belies the depth and danger beneath the surface. Tracks like “I Blame You”, “The Other Man” and especially “Animals” seduce your ears, delicate pure playing and the fine vocals of Davidson, Booth and O’Meara charm you and deliver emotional songs that doesn’t hold back or pull any punches. “The Other Man” takes the sentiment of Martin Niemöller’s famous poem First They Came and puts on a contemporary twist. The rich imagery of “The Hollow Men” and the album title itself suggests a dark folk tale, calling up the sense of TS Ellio’s Hollow Men, indecisive spirits trapped in a limbo between salvation and damnation. Now there is a tale for our times. This is cua, charged and making you think. As emotionally complex as the taste of a characterful single malt, there is beauty and there is the burn. Percussion is minimal and under stated, but there is a pulse and a beat to tracks like the excellent “I Blame You” behind the rich harmonies and some sublime guitar. The voice is king too, glorious harmonies and layers of voice run through the album. Spiritual like on “Waco” or stately and evoking Coope Boyes and Simpson at their finest on “The Other Man”. “Waco” with its handclaps manages to be as righteous and funky as Stax era Staples Singers. Soul Folk in Action indeed. There may even be a cross over Dance remix in there somewhere too. “Mother Earth” is a glorious closer. The Bouzouki resonates and rattles like a hammer dulcimer, beautiful music gives way to characteristically rich vocals on a wonderful hymn to consequences. Three musicians, three voices and the sound of the space around them. Stripped back to its base ingredients the recipe for the album makes it sound simple, but there is a power and a depth in apparent simplicity. The more you listen the more you hear, the more you hear the more you want to listen. The roots of this music spread wide, anchoring cua like a colossal tree giving them a strength a rigor and a real presence. Coastal Music looks to the horizon and is music without borders, traditional folk, jazz, classical music American, Roots music whatever it is, it is a vital music.