These two young quintets very much represent opposite poles on the Irish musical map. Téada resolutely explore the present by harking back to the past (perhaps they might be termed a hinterland band) while Gráda’s discoveries lie on the musical margins, embodying the pioneering spirit of predecessors such as Deiseal, Four Men and a Dog and Lúnasa.
The title of Téada’s second album in one sense gives the game away, for Lá an Dreilin (“the Day of the Wren”) recalls the times when December 26th, St. Stephen’s Day, was widely celebrated in Ireland and saw the bands of costume-clad wren boys sally forth to catch the bird which, as legend has it, betrayed the first Christian martyr. Indeed the band’s bodhrán-heavy, drone-fiddled rendition of the set dance The Ace and Deuce of Piping successfully attempts to evoke the wren boys’ activity.
Elsewhere, as on a set kicked off by The League Reel, they might sound a little too close to De Dannan for comfort, but there’s marvellous interplay throughout between Oisín Mac Diarmada’s fiddle and Paul Finn’s accordeon and concertina, well-supported by John Blake’s guitar and flute, Seán McElwain’s banjo and bouzouki and Tristan Rosenstock’s frame drum. Oisín sings too with notable finesse and occasional gravitas.
Much of Gráda’s music, in contrast, is either self-penned or derives from contemporary songwriters such as Emily Saliers and Kevin Moyna. Tread Softly, the opener, firmly sets out their stall, highlighting Anne Marie O’Malley’s gossamer-thread vocals and the prominent presence of Andrew Laking’s double bass (and it’s surely no coincidence that Lúnasa’s bassist, Trevor Hutchinson, produced The Landing Step).
Gráda’s own tunes (or those learnt from flute players Conor Byrne and Jean Michel Veillon) are where their wings really take flight. Alan Doherty’s flutes and whistles and Brendan O’Sullivan’s fiddle and viola lead the band through a labyrinth of unexpected twists and melodic route changes while Laking, Gerry Paul’s guitar and O’Malley’s bodhrán make sure nobody misses a turning. Check their Roskilde Reel for details.
Their Manuka Swing set demonstrates that Gráda are certainly not heads-down-no-nonsense-hammer-out-the-jigs-and-reels-merchants and Anne Marie’s songs, especially Isabelle and Dear Mary offer a telling counterpoint.
This review by Geoff Wallis was written for fRoots magazine – www.frootsmag.com.