There are reasons why folk supergroups are few and far between, chief among them the fact that it’s a genre that doesn’t easily lend itself to the type of hype more commonly associated with boisterous rock ‘n’ rollers. Admittedly, the marquee names that make up the Monsters Of Folk spring to mind, but their monicker is tongue-in-cheek and their collaborations brief. Besides, they dabble in the lighter arts of folk; a fusion of pop-like hooks, hummable melodies and snazzy cardigans.
Steeped in traditional Celtic influences but bravely contemporary, the Gloaming are a five-man Irish-American supergroup who have created a distinctive style of their own. The key musician here is Martin Hayes, one of the finest fiddle players on the planet, who is joined by his long-term accompanist, the guitarist Dennis Cahill, along with Caoimhin Ó Raghallaigh, an exponent of the Norwegian hardanger fiddle, who adds unexpected drone effects and textures, and the gently compelling and soulful singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, of Afro Celt Sound System fame. But the real surprise is Thomas "Doveman" Bartlett, who has worked with everyone from David Byrne and Laurie Anderson to Sam Amidon, and whose assured, decidedly non-folky piano work provides elegant backing for Lionaird on the gently charming The Necklace of Wrens, or suddenly cuts across and transforms a furious Hayes fiddle reel during the exhilarating 16-minute work-out, Opening Set.
Appropriately, each track on the debut from this masterful quintet of Irish and American musicians feels like a freshly flipped spade of sod — its ripe turf’s most ancient facets made new just by touching air. Iarla Ó Lionaird’s voice can dip from nimble sean-nós to brooding lows to frail falsettos, and his control leavens his dense lines of Gaelic verse. Thomas Bartlett (a.k.a.