Blackbird & Crow – Ailm

Album Review | MIG Music | Review by Allan Wilkinson

We tend to talk a lot about darkness in folk music, as if it was a prerequisite to reflect our current feelings, which are a little on the bleak side, but often the question arises “how dark?”  The opening couple of songs on Ailm, “Harlot on Holy Hill”, which segues into “The Witch That Could Not Be Burned” suggests to us pretty much “as dark as it gets”; the second song could perhaps be a contender for a replacement theme song to the next season of Peaky Blinders, with pitchforks replacing lethal ‘baker boy’ caps. The spoken passages add to the unsettling tone of the song, especially when delivering such lines as “I am the cursed, I am the damned, there’s fire in my blood and there’s pitchforks in your hands”, to the backdrop of sneering grungy guitar licks. 

County Donegal’s Maighread Ni Ghrasta and Stephen Doohan make an engaging noise on their second album release, with brooding Gothic vocals and atmospheric arrangements throughout the fifteen songs (the final two being radio edits of songs already included). Maighread has a versatile vocabulary when it comes to delivery, one moment she conveys sensitivity on “Margaret the Martyr” and “Parting Rag”, the next passion and soul on “Sweet Surrender” and “Orphan’s Lament”, then goes on to add all the power of a venomous attack on “A Pox on You”, almost spitting out the words before your face. Thankfully the Dolores O’Riordan yodel inflections are kept to a minimum, although one threatens to slip out during the opening line of “Mo Chuisle”, but in the main, we are treated to an original voice.

Choice Track: “Margaret the Martyr” (NSV 493)