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Monday, August 5, 2013

The Bothy Band, "Old Hag, You Have Killed Me"

The Bothy Band
"Old Hag You Have Killed Me"
Green Linnet (1976)

1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die

Don't get Tom Moon wrong: The Bothy Band is not the modernization of Celtic music in terms of adding synthesizers or anything like that. In fact, there's little for the average Joe to hear here and understand the modernity of it. So I think it's best to understand that the Bothy Band band plays great, tight Celtic music that happens to make music in the modern era, and happens to play centuries-old music.

All the traditional instruments are here, but there are a few "modern" instruments that make a difference as well. I'll break down the instruments chronologically using the song "Michael Gorman's," my pick for the best track on "Old Hag You Have Killed Me." The opening introduces with a non-Irish instrument right away: the bouzaki, a Greek instrument resembling a lute, and it begins alongside the flute, a more traditional Irish instrument. Next comes the uilleann pipes, a variant of the bagpipes, and the bodhrán, a hand drum that supplies a bass rhythm. The fiddles come in later than usual, as they tend to be the lead instrument in Celtic music (and they tend to open most of the tracks on "Old Hag"). The last modern instrument to join is an acoustic guitar, filling a similar role to the bodhrán in it's simple strumming.

It doesn't sound so swell when I describe it as I just did, but consider that as these instruments pile up, the party gets more and more raucous. Nearly every instrumental on the album builds into this thrilling crescendo. For modern listeners, I'd compare it to the music of Flogging Molly, minus the male vocals and drum kit of course. Dónal Lunny, the bouzaki player and bandleader, tears off on some incredibly quick solos (so fast I swore it must be a dulcimer). The tracks you'll hear at Gaelic festivals, such as "Music In The Glen" and the title track, feature dueling fiddles. Irish fiddle is marked by slurring, or playing several different notes in one bow movement (and not an offensive reference to Irish culture).

Few of the tracks actually feature vocals. Those that do tend to be downers, in the best way. In case you weren't aware, the fiddle and violin are the same instrument played in a different method. The players here switch to violin mode to lure mournful notes from their instruments, adding them to the high, minor key of the low whistle. Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill may only get three tracks to sing, but she makes the most of them. Check out "The Maid of Coolmore" if you want to relax from dancing jigs.

If you want to check out one track that sounds modern, check out "Fionnghuala." It may be the most traditional track (it's in Gaelic), but it could work in a club setting. The layered vocals, sans instruments, certainly have an interesting rhythm to them. Really, check it out. Okay, I tried Tom Moon. You're on your own.

INTERESTING FACT: Green Linnet, who put out "Old Hag You Have Killed Me," is an American record label that specialized in Celtic music. The name is derived from the Irish nickname for Napolean, who Irish rebels hoped would free them from the British monarchy. A real linnet is red.

Michael Gorman's by The Bothy Band on Grooveshark

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