BARRULE: Manannan's Cloak
Nestled deep in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland, the Isle of Man is a small island with an outsized culture. Home to the world’s oldest parliament, rich Gaelic traditions, and bucolic villages, the bracing jigs, racing reels, and old Manx songs of the island may be the best-kept secret in Celtic music today. But that won’t be the case for long if Manx powertrio Barrule has anything to say about it. Made up of three master musicians, Barrule delves deep into once-obscured Manx traditions on their new album, Manannan’s Cloak, pulling forth songs and tunes that tap into the ancient history of the Isle of Man. The album was named for the patron saint of the Isle of Man, Manannán mac Lir, a Celtic sea god who watched over the islands, drawing his cloak of fog and mist around them to obscure them from intruders, and the band itself is named for Mannán’s mountain summit from which he dispensed fiery judgment on the intruders that made it to shore. With such a mythic legacy, it’s about time for Manx music to take its place in the Celtic pantheon, and Barrule are just the group to make this happen. Made up of fiddler Tomas Callister, one of the leading lights of the young traditional Manx music scene and an explosively virtuosic musician, the acclaimed and remarkably tasteful Welsh accordionist Jamie Smith, who’s also known for his ground-breaking Welsh band Mabon, and hard-driving guitarist/bouzouki player Adam Rhodes, who’s long been at the center of the Manx revival, Barrule represent the traditions of the Isle of Man with refreshing arrangements and an eye to their place in modern Celtic roots music.
Manannan’s Cloak was recorded in December 2014 in the historic St. Bridget’s Chapel, in the Isle of Man’s Nunnery grounds. With producer Andy Seward at the helm, Manannan’s Cloak takes the trio’s emphatic sound to the next level, with guest performances from a supporting cast that boasts Paul McKenna on vocals, Calum Stewart on uilleann pipes, Dylan Fowler on lap steel and Tad Sargent on bodhrán, plus the homegrown talents of regular collaborators David Kilgallon (piano) and Gregory Joughin (vocals). Barrule’s new album presents a diverse collection of material from rousing marches, jigs and reels to sorrowful slow airs and beautiful songs sung in the Manx Gaelic language. Here, Jamie Smith excels at the old Manx language, a Gaelic tongue that once nearly disappeared (the last native Manx speaker passed away in the 70s). The Manx songs on Manannan’s Cloak may sound as old as the sea, but true to Gaelic traditions, they actually speak to very modern and current issues. “Fir Hammag Yioogh” translates as “High Net Worth Individuals” and is a modern take on rich overlords, and “Yn Ven-Ainshter Dewil” deals with a man whose female boss turns her position against him. It’s a part of Barrule’s mission to show that the old traditions have as much to say today as they did a thousand years ago.
With bold but sensitive arrangements, Barrule presents a fresh take on traditional and contemporary Manx music. While sharing common ground with its Celtic cousins, as well as the English tradition, Manx music has retained its own particular and inherent Manxness: an atmosphere evoked by the music that speaks of the natural beauty of the island and the lives of the Manx people.