Love, Revenge, Fancy Shirts and High-Speed Ship Chases: Kern “The Left & The Leaving” Album Launch in the DC Music Club, Dublin, 17/10/19

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Kern 2019 photographed by John Wilde. Source: Kern on Facebook.

On Friday night, traditional-folk group Kern launched their second album The Left & The Leaving. Their debut album, False Deceiver was critically acclaimed when released in 2016 (see Tradconnect.com, Irish Music magazine, The Irish Echo, thebestofmusicandfilm.com and others) and Kern spent the better part of the next three years gigging their socks off. They’ve played many stages in Ireland and Europe: the Spirit Store in Dundalk, Temple Bar Tradfest, both recent Fleadh Cheoils in Drogheda, Milwaukee Irish Fest, Whelan’s, The Cobblestone, Vantastival, Culture Connections, Dingle, Germany to name but a few. Not only this but they kept their finger on the recording studio in the interim and released a “winter mix” of the single Short Term Thing and Till The Docklands Drown. I’ve attended a bunch of their Dublin/Louth gigs and have always been impressed by their thrilling live performances. Also, their sound translates excellently from studio to stage and back again. As a music producer, sound engineer and follower, I find both arenas equally enjoyable to listen to Kern in.

The Left & The Leaving was produced by Trevor Hutchinson, the founder member of Lúnasa. Mr Hutchinson also produced False Deceiver and performed double bass on both albums. The album artwork is a beautiful painting by Louth artist and illustrator Caoimhe McCarthy and inside there’s a handsome photograph of the band with their respective instruments, taken by Meath photographer, John Wilde. In keeping with False Deceiver, the comprehensive and interesting inner sleeve-notes are attractively presented.

Young Louth traditional-folk group Alfi opened for Kern in the DC Music Club, Dublin. The trio consists of Fiachra Meek (uilleann pipes/vocal/low whistle), Alannah Thornburgh (harp/vocal) and Ryan McAuley (banjo/vocal). They played a charming set from their debut EP Wolves in the Woods which combines American old-time and traditional Irish music. They displayed fine musicianship with stellar performances on each instrument respectively, a fantastic vocal blend- particularly the male harmony on The Drink Song, well-researched notes on their tune and song sources and engaging banter between tunes. I worked with Fiachra during the final year of my undergraduate degree, pestering him to join me in the studio as I tried out various microphones and combinations on his uilleann pipes, quizzing him on how to the pipes make sound and dropping in on pre-production sessions with his then-band Na Tonnta, for our 3-track studio production. The last time I saw him was at a post-studio session dinner in the student apartment block, where he and a fellow band member tried to open a coconut with the tiniest hammer you ever saw. One hour, a scratched floor and a marvellous vegetarian curry later, the band collapsed in hearty laughs and I actually can’t remember if they did crack that coconut or not. Fiachra carries forward his witty humour into Alfi and I’m very interested to follow this promising young band’s career.

Following Alfi, Kern arrived onstage to a rapturous applause with very special guest- Mr Dónal Lunny. Dónal launched The Left and The Leaving with light-hearted commentary and much praise, citing his favourite as Drowsyman’s Hornpipe/Martin Young’s Polka. SJ McArdle (guitar/vocal), Brendan McCreanor (uilleann pipes/low whistle/vocal) and Barry Kieran (fiddle) along with Mr Lunny (bouzouki) played a joyous set of tunes. Off the bat, the amount of practice and thought that went into the set was obvious- tight performance, intricate and unexpected pauses, superb energy and purest passion and joy. The four beamed at each other constantly throughout.

Kern continued their set after Dónal took a polite bow and settled into the audience for a deserved drink. It was immediately apparent that the fans Kern worked so hard to attract would not be disappointed with their new material. Their new songs clearly excellently crafted, sounded like a perfect continuation from those on False Deceiver: Powerful, energetic strumming and expert dexterous fingerpicking from SJ which at times was so gentle, he hardly seemed to be touching his guitar strings at all, yet each note rang through clear as a bell. More husky vocals telling stories of Irish days past, joked by SJ as mostly having maritime themes. Despite the giddy laughter concerning extra-fancy shirts that magically blag you communion faster in Mass, tales of high-speed ship chases and what not, SJ sings beautiful songs of a serious nature- Irish emigration, the Famine, the wars and hard-working class Irish heroes. Kern’s way of combining Irish tunes into their songs is certainly distinctive and works very well. Brendan and Barry each weave gorgeous melodies around SJ’s vocal, adding an extra layer of emotional essence. If you’re too enthralled by the music to listen to the lyrics, you’ll not be in left in the dark of the subject matter. Barry’s light-handed vibrato will tug at your heartstrings while Brendan’s lilting chanter can convey a graceful joy.

Kern’s new tunes are equally impressive. Clearly innovators who have a deep respect for the tradition and players, the lads unleashed new compositions of their own. Barry’s Somers March/Daragh Patrick’s is quite frankly a masterpiece. I was blown away. His march, named after the group’s stay in Germany, is delicate and sweet while the jig, named after his godson, is a bundle of joy. Both tunes, separately or combined could easily feature in a movie soundtrack, they’re that cinematic. Brendan’s Martin Young’s polka, part of the Drowsyman’s Hornpipe/Martin Young’s Polka set is such a cheerful tune and instant toe tapper also. Brendan dedicated the tune to the memory of fellow piper Martin Young. Staying within the locality, Bonny Light Horseman, heralded as “Drogheda’s National Anthem” roused a chorus of voices, filling the venue. And speaking of innovation within the tradition, I couldn’t help but be impressed by Kern’s magnificent stops and starts within Russian Reels and The New Jigs. Tasteful, dramatic and intelligent, the lads kept the audience on their toes.

All in all, the old Louth tunes and songs, and the new regional-inspired material are clearly safe in the hands of Kern. The album launch was a visible and audible success and several early listens of The Left & The Leaving indicate that this album too will be a staple in my playlist of Louth coastal beach walks.

Hup the lads! Well done and many congrats to you! Onwards to this new season in Kern’s career, we can only listen in delight.

Kern’s newly launched official website: https://kernmusic.com/

Follow on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kernband/

Purchase The Left &The Leaving on iTunes: https://music.apple.com/ie/album/the-left-and-the-leaving/1482957996

Alfi Bandcamp: https://alfi.bandcamp.com/

 

2 thoughts on “Love, Revenge, Fancy Shirts and High-Speed Ship Chases: Kern “The Left & The Leaving” Album Launch in the DC Music Club, Dublin, 17/10/19”

  1. Some of us many Kern fans in America traveled to Dublin for the album launch. Stephanie’s review is spot-on; it was a delightful evening and we are enjoying the new album tremendously.

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