The Georgia Straight - - Music - > KATE WIL­SON

When sign­ing a ma­jor-record­la­bel 2 con­tract, few re­al­ize the im­pli­ca­tions it will have for their cre­ative out­put. Ex­ec­u­tives of­ten bring in ex­ter­nal tal­ent to help write tracks, and higher-ups have a habit of sand­ing down edgy tunes to make them sound more com­mer­cial—ra­dio is key, after all. Many per­form­ers soon find their cre­ative con­trol slowly di­min­ish­ing, and that they’re pushed into adopt­ing a dif­fer­ent iden­tity as an artist.

U.K. singer-song­writer Luke Si­tal-singh de­cided to say no. Walk­ing away from a deal with Par­lophone—the gi­ant that pro­duced his first al­bum, 2014’s The Fire Inside—the per­former chose in­stead to put out his sec­ond LP on an in­die la­bel. He hasn’t looked back since.

“It just wasn’t re­ally work­ing for me, be­ing with a ma­jor,” Si­tal-singh tells the Straight on the line from Bos­ton. “I don’t hate col­lab­o­rat­ing and cowrit­ing, but it was just too in­tense—the more voices you have pro­ject­ing their own sound into your work, it starts to wa­ter down the vi­sion. There are still a few peo­ple out there that I’d hap­pily write with any day, that get my mu­sic and bring out the best in me rather than stamp­ing their own thing on top of my stuff. I look back on the first al­bum and re­al­ized that I said yes to too many other peo­ple’s ideas, and I should have stuck to my guns.”

In­stead, the artist has spent the last year, as he jok­ingly puts it, “try­ing to ig­nore as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble”. Hav­ing re­leased his new al­bum, Time Is a Rid­dle, on Ray­gun Records in May, Si­tal-singh is proud of his sopho­more ef­fort, de­scrib­ing it as a “labour of love”. With­out los­ing the singer’s sig­na­ture bite, the songs fea­ture soft, emo­tive piano scores blended with gen­tle gui­tar chords and sup­ple vo­cals. That bal­ance, Si­tal-singh sug­gests, came from lay­ing down the songs live.

“I recorded in a beau­ti­ful stu­dio in Done­gal,” he re­calls. “It was in the mid­dle of nowhere, with in­cred­i­ble countryside. I re­ally wanted some­where that I could es­cape to, and be­come en­veloped in the mak­ing of the al­bum. We fin­ished it pretty quickly, in about 10 days. It was a re­ally nat­u­ral, or­ganic process, which was very dif­fer­ent from mak­ing the first one. Be­fore, it was built around ev­ery­one’s sched­ules, which meant lots of lit­tle ses­sions—one day here, two days there—and it was all re­ally bro­ken up. I re­ally wanted to have one block of time to re­ally get stuck in.

“Be­cause it was live, we made some mis­takes,” he con­tin­ues. “We kept them. Some of the vo­cal takes of mine could have been bet­ter tech­ni­cally, but I was singing in the room, so we couldn’t redo them. We just went with the full takes to try and keep some en­ergy and alive­ness to songs, which can of­ten be quite sad or slow. It re­ally sounds like the tracks have more vi­vac­ity to them be­cause we’re all in the same room to­gether. They sound like they’re be­ing played by hu­man be­ings, and that’s a very im­por­tant thing.” Luke Si­tal-singh plays the Rio Theatre on Saturday (Oc­to­ber 14).

It’s one thing to hon­our the 2

ar­chives, to dig deep into his­tor­i­cal ma­te­rial and bring it into the light of the present day. It’s quite an­other mat­ter to take that mu­sic and make it new—but that’s what folk su­per­group the Gloam­ing has done, beau­ti­fully, over the course of two in­spired al­bums and six years as a band.

The quin­tet takes its in­spi­ra­tion from the Ir­ish her­itage that all of its mem­bers share. But, as fid­dler Martin Hayes says, “This band’s a lit­tle more than tra­di­tional Ir­ish mu­sic, let’s put it that way.

“In a tra­di­tional mu­sic form,” he con­tin­ues, “one al­ways has to go back to the source and re­visit the roots and, you know, re­new that con­tin­u­ally. The other thing is, one needs to push the lim­its of that on the other end of the spec­trum. You also have to find rel­e­vance in the world in which you ex­ist as an artist and as a mu­si­cian, so that it be­comes a lan­guage that’s alive and speak­ing for you now.”

It’s a process of look­ing back in or­der to go for­ward—and for Hayes and his band­mates, that means re­mov­ing some of the near-baroque vir­tu­os­ity that has come to epit­o­mize the play­ing of all those tricky slip jigs and reels.

“First of all, when you strip those melodies back to their bare bones… and you just an­a­lyze the melodic line it­self, you be­gin to un­der­stand the feel­ing that in­spired that melody, that emo­tional con­nec­tion,” he ex­plains. “And then you can find a way to ex­press that piece of melody in a way that makes sense to a wider world, if pos­si­ble—in a way that can show them the real beauty of it.”

This push for sim­plic­ity doesn’t im­ply that the mem­bers of the Gloam­ing are not all true vir­tu­osos. In fact, their band is the most gifted group to come out of Ire­land since the rise of the Chief­tains in the 1960s, num­ber­ing as it does mu­si­cians who are at once lead­ing ex­po­nents of the tra­di­tion and tire­less in­no­va­tors.

Hayes him­self has been push­ing against folk or­tho­doxy since the late 1980s, when he and Gloam­ing gui­tarist Den­nis Cahill formed the elec­tric folk act Mid­night Court. They’ve been play­ing to­gether ever since; in fact, when the fid­dler calls the Straight, he’s in Cal­i­for­nia, where he’s do­ing a few duo shows with Cahill be­fore they join the larger en­sem­ble. His fel­low fid­dler Caoimhín Ó Raghal­laigh takes a sim­i­larly ex­pan­sive view of his her­itage, play­ing a cus­tom-made in­stru­ment in­spired by Nor­way’s Har­dan­ger fid­dle and in­tro­duc­ing el­e­ments of Scan­di­na­vian mu­sic to the mix. The band also in­cludes pi­anist Thomas Bartlett, who main­tains a thriv­ing prac­tice as a pro­ducer, ses­sion mu­si­cian, and song­writer—work­ing with, among many oth­ers, David Byrne, the National, and Martha Wain­wright—un­der the pseu­do­nym Dove­man.

“Thomas is bringing all kinds of dif­fer­ent in­flu­ences to the ta­ble

in terms of how he in­ter­prets these tunes,” Hayes says. “But he also has a knowl­edge of Ir­ish mu­sic and Amer­i­can con­tradance mu­sic that goes way back to his early child­hood. That’s what al­lows him the free­dom to bring these things in, be­cause he in­stinc­tively knows how this mu­sic goes.”

And then there’s the ic­ing on the cake, in the form of Iarla Ó Lionáird— an as­sess­ment none of the singer’s col­leagues would dis­pute. Ó Lionáird is sim­ply a per­former of un­com­mon grace, sub­tlety, and power, as well as a liv­ing link to the Ir­ish bardic tra­di­tion.

“Iarla can go way back into the raw el­e­ments of the [un­ac­com­pa­nied] sean nós style that he grew up with in West Cork, and that’s like the el­e­men­tary, core bedrock of this mu­sic,” Hayes says. “And at the same time, he spent a big part of his ca­reer out there with [elec­tro-trad pi­o­neers] Afro Celt Sound Sys­tem, or do­ing mod­ern com­po­si­tions with Don­nacha Den­nehy, so he has an un­der­stand­ing of a more con­tem­po­rary world as well.

“Tra­di­tion is an ar­ti­fact, and it isn’t very in­ter­est­ing just sim­ply pre­serv­ing an ar­ti­fact,” Hayes adds. “I can see some value in that, of course, but it’s noth­ing like hav­ing some­thing that speaks to the soul in the present mo­ment.” The Gloam­ing plays the Chan Cen­tre for the Per­form­ing Arts on Sun­day (Oc­to­ber 15).

Luke Si­tal-singh walked away from a ma­jor-la­bel con­tract.

The Gloam­ing uses tra­di­tional Ir­ish mu­sic as its start­ing point, but the band has taken its in­flu­ences and turned them into some­thing new and dif­fer­ent.

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