Broderick, Cortanze Castle (Offspring Records, 2002)

 This is the second offering from this England based group. In his review of its predecessor, Kissing Fishes, Chuck Lipsig opined "... there's nothing bad. There just isn't any spark to make this group stand out." Does this provide that spark? And if so, what's changed? The most obvious change is the addition of upright bassist Rick Foot to the established line up of Luke Daniels (accordion, guitar, vocals), Colm Murphy (fiddle), Clare Garrard (fiddle, viola) and Don Oeters (guitar, percussion). The quintet is supplemented on various tracks by Jon Boden (guitar, vocals), Declan Folan (fiddle), J.P. Gandy (piano) and producer Steafan Hannigan (percussion).

With such a plethora of instruments, a high level of skill in the art of arrangement becomes an essential if the music is to find room to manoeuvre effectively. This is a skill that Broderick have well and truly mastered, with the different instruments chopping and changing between attacking and defensive roles like a well coached soccer team. The repertoire of the group is primarily Celtic, which, it must be said, is always something of "fluid" category. Tunes like "Johnny O'Halloran's," and "Mick Conneely's" are inarguably "trad - Irish," no matter the name of the musician that they bear. "Donaldo's No 9" is a set of three Sliabh Luachra slides credited as "Gan ainm" (no name), and you can't get more traditional than that!

In amongst the jigs, reels and hornpipes however, there's a Galician waltz, an andro, a Swedish march and a couple of Finnish polkas. The last two seem particularly pertinent as Broderick's hip, sophisticated, jazz-inflected approach to folk music marks them as more closely allied to the current crop of Nordic musicians than either their English or Irish counterparts. In this respect, Cortanze Castle operates in similar territory to the eponymous CD by Cara Dillon (whose principal musicians, Sam, Seth and Sean Lakeman, have all collaborated extensively with Daniels).  That CD has been widely acclaimed in circles far beyond the established "folk scene" while encountering small but vociferous pockets of opposition within it. This CD could equally well prove to be one that initially divides opinion, whilst acting as a useful barometer in the longer term.

There are three songs on this CD, which provide further evidence of progression from its predecessor.  For Kissing Fishes the band brought in a guest singer, Airavata. While she sang superbly, her absence at gigs proved a stumbling block for audiences who -- quite reasonably -- expected to hear the songs performed in the same style as the recording. For this release, Daniels has "taken the plunge" and handles all lead vocals himself. His style of singing has been compared by more folk than me to both Nick Drake and a young John Martyn. Again, his singing is far more likely to gain him the plaudits of listeners from outside the folk world than within it. Having said that, a radical rework of "As I Roved Out" is probably the only possible approach to capturing the attention of a generation of listeners who've grown up in the belief that the song's actual title is "As I Roved Out (Christy)." The other two songs are "Tonight, in Fancy," learned from the singing of Daniel's friend and mentor, fiddle legend Lucy Farr, and Stan Rogers' "Field Behind the Plow."

That previous mention of John Martyn and the memories of his work with Danny Thompson that it evoked, has somehow led me to a useful landmark in Broderick's musical pre-history. It's probably true to say that the majority of British folk music innovators of the last few decades have taken the dual axis of Fairport and Steeleye as the starting point of their adventures. Broderick -- almost certainly unconsciously -- owe more to the legacy of Pentangle than either of those two groups. Older readers will remember Pentangle as the "enfants terribles" of the British folk scene in the 1960's -- a band who answered their most reactionary critics with a combination of virtuoso musicianship and a "louche" swagger.

These Pentangle musings seem to hold water as regards the ice-cool guitar and double bass in Broderick's music, but what about the times when those fiddles and that accordion really let rip? That's when Broderick sound more like prime-era De Dannan than anyone, and believe me, there's no higher praise in this household. Hmmm, here's a band who make complex, exhilarating European folk music which is reminiscent at times of both De Dannan and Pentangle. Let's just call this music "Dangle," and create a whole new category, shall we? I can picture the scene at the (category obsessed) Grammy Awards now: "and the award for the year's best "Dangle" album goes to ...."

 

[Stephen Hunt]