The Irish concertina (the tiny but powerful Irish accordion) master Pádraig Rynne really reshuffled the pack a few years ago with Notify, an album where his traditional instrument meshed with a barrage of loops, synths and rock band instruments. It was an exhilarating outburst of energy and surpringingly bold vision, a continuous hi-energy swirl with few moments to catch your breath (I could have used a couple more of those but I ain’t complaining).
Now he’s out with Conscious, which is in a way a deliberate step back, an album I think finds the perfect middle ground between Notify’s blast, the more composition-focused pieces and Irish folk per se. I have listened to it repeatedly as it’s really grown on me over the past couple of weeks.
Distant Sea Line opens the album with synthesizer waves rolling back and forth until Rynne’s solo concertina jumps in with a bright tune that bounces like a ball on top of the waves – until the fairly short tune suddenly seagues into the gently shifting, reggae-tinged rhythms, murmuring synths and full band sound of Amber Spring, and we’re really off on this album’s journey.
In a way, Conscious reminds me of Ross Ainslie’s brilliant Sanctuary from a couple of yeats ago. Both works cover a notable range of musical styles while keeping close connections to the roots, both albums have tracks flowing into each other without pauses, and they feature excellent playing that builds a natural bridge between tradition and this moment.
Much more than Notify, Conscious features warm tones and extended moments of lyrical beauty; the almost fragile Broken Notes is followed by for me very visual and airy Magnolia Place, probably my favorite track here (I’d love to make a video of this piece).
The rest of the album features wagonloads of ideas and references, including a totally whooping tribute to vintage disco (!!!). It’s all innovative, colorful, elegiac here and goofy there, and excellently performed all the way. I couldn’t ask for more.