Layers of Knowledge
Faha Rain is the second album from East Clare duo An Tara, comprising percussionist Tommy Hayes and Matthew Noone on sarode, the 23-stringed North Indian lute. An Tara, from Sanskrit, translates as ‘the space between’ and fittingly names their exploration into the liminal musical territory where North Indian and Irish traditions meet.
My first encounter with the duo was in 2014 at an intimate gathering at Irish Seed Savers outside Scariff in Clare where they delivered a set of music that was at once transporting and grounded. I left wanting to hear more.
Their debut album in 2015, The Space Between, showcased their musical melding in seven tracks; a combination of traditional tunes, compositions from Clare fiddle-player Junior Crehan, the sean-nós song ‘Anach Cuan’ (performed by Niamh Ní Bhriain of Hoodman Blind), Indian ragas, and a 48-beat rhythmic cycle titled ‘Nagrasad’.
Expanding on this blueprint, Faha Rain, released on the Raelach Records label and named after the townland in East Clare where Australian-born Noone now resides, offers more tunes from Crehan, as well as Paddy Fahy, along with arrangements of traditional melodies and newly composed pieces and songs from the duo.
Recorded and produced by Jack Talty, Faha Rain is a genre-curious collection with a sonic depth that makes it an engaging experience. The album synthesizes ethnic, ancient and traditional strands whilst sounding surprisingly contemporary, at points aided by Talty’s tasty piano cameos on ‘That New York Thang’ and ‘Rosie’s Lullaby’.
The many layers of musical knowledge that Hayes and Noone have access to shine through this record; Noone as an ex-Indie rocker with a PhD in Irish-Indian musical sympathies; and Hayes, master bodhrán player, founding member of Stockton’s Wing, practising music therapist and three decades of top-shelf musical collaborations to his name.
Hayes has accrued an impressive range of percussion for this album; the trad trio of bodhrán, bones and spoons plus a menagerie of marimba, mbira (thumb piano), jew’s harp, bells, silk-worm cocoon shakers, goats’ toe-nails, and hand-claps. His percussive talents add tonal subtlety, structure and counterpoint to Noone’s melodic expressions.
Consider the compound marimba against the two Junior Crehan hornpipes ‘Hills of Coore’ and ‘Her Lovely Golden Hair Was Flowing Down Her Back’; or the layering of cantering finger-jig figures, whale-like groans and tactile hand strokes from the bodhrán on the second track, ‘Simply A’ and ‘Paddy Fahy’s’; or the tribal arrangement on ‘Lament’, replete with hand-clap ostinato and a coda nod from Noone’s indie-rock past with the harsh upward strums on the sarode.
Having first encountered the sarode on his travels in India in 2003, Noone has become a skilled exponent, as evident on the fifth track, ‘Wisdom’, a delicate fusion of raga, traditional and jazz improv styles; and the title track ‘Faha Rain’, an homage to Junior Crehan’s compositional style and a great example of where the two world-music traditions collide.
I would have enjoyed hearing again the earthy lilting of Tommy Hayes, as we did on the first album, but Faha Rain is a definite step up from the explorative acoustic of The Space Between; it is a more embodied and considered collection, adding new aspects of tradition to the strata of sound that is An Tara.
An Tara’s Faha Rain is available from Raelach Records. For more, visit https://raelachrecords.bandcamp.com/.
This review is published as part of a new scheme for music writers in County Clare. The Journal of Music/Clare County Council Music Writer Mentoring Scheme is supported by Clare Arts Office and was launched in March 2017. Over 12 months, the editorial team of The Journal of Music are working with four new writers – Deirdre Clare, Ian Bascombe, Ruth Smith and Alan Reid – to expand the magazine’s coverage of musical life in the county. The first five reviews focused on the Riches of Clare concert series and Floriane Blancke (Ian Bascombe), Paul Brady at Glór (Deirdre Clare), Lisa Hannigan (Ruth Smith), and The Boruma Trio (Alan Reid).
This is one of three schemes currently underway. The second – supported by Galway City Council – supports five new writers to cover musical life in Galway City. The first six reviews include Overhead, the Albatross and Talos (Vincent Hughes), RTÉ Concert Orchestra (Jake Morgan), Brian Wilson (Dylan Murphy), Lankum (Shannon McNamee) and Loah (Julie Seagrave).
The third scheme, for writers about music in Northern Ireland, is supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. For more, visit https://goo.gl/hVPVr5
For further details on the background to the schemes, please visit https://goo.gl/QY83ga.
Published on 14 February 2018
Ruth Smith is a musician, teacher and producer living in Clare. She is a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and one third of the female vocal and instrumental trio The Evertides. During the summer of 2017, she played the role of Ex-Girlfriend in 'Once' at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin. Ruth made her presenting debut on RTÉ Radio 1 in 2017 also with a one-hour special and followed up as a presenter on Late Date. She recently presented an 8-week series on RTÉ Radio 1 called 'Simply Folk with Ruth Smith'.