(Since I’m not a music professional, I sometimes – quite often, really – miss a noteworthy release and wake up to it much later. This is one of those cases. The text below is written almost six months after the album’s release)
Glasgow-based Irish composer-fiddler Gráinne Brady’s exceptional debut album The Road Across The Hills (2019) was quite a stunner. A very, very cinematic piece of work, based on a novel by Patrick MacGill and featuring spoken word passages. Not your average Celtic folk album by any measure, and such a confident and strong work it was.
Newcomer is almost a sequel: again a MacGill novel forms the framework for the music, again there is spoken word. Even some of the musicians are the same on both albums. But – relief – this is not a rerun or a copy-paste affair. Some elements and the overall structure may be the same but the soundscape and the mood are noticably different.
Wheras The Road… blended trad stylings and feeling to small-scale string arrangements, Newcomer comes acrossa almost as neoclassical. The string section really is a chamber ensemble, with flute added on two tracks. Trad colorings do appear, especially on the tracks where Dallahan accordionist Andrew Waite appears, but this is very, very much a strings album, with the piano also playing a major role.
As the album follows MacGill’s not-so-happy tale of a young Irishwoman’s tribulations in Scotland a hundred years ago, it’s only to expected this one is not your choice for a party album. Instead, it is a forceful narrative, an ”audio movie” that immerses you pretty thoroughly. The compositions form a fairly seamless chain of music, with only the dynamic Onwards and the wonderfully visual waltz In The Lane taking slightly different roads.
Newcomer packs some serious emotional punch and its strings-dominated soundscape is vivid and strong. It’s a powerful work from a serious talent with a unique voice in music.
Newcomer and Gráinne Brady’s other releases are available on Bandcamp where your purchase benefits the artists directly.