These are shock and awe tactics. Right from Steve Cooney’s first didgeridoo note on the opening track of their third album, Dublin-based seven-piece the Bonny Men command their audience’s absolute attention.
Séamus Ennis’s version of ‘Jenny’s Welcome to Charlie’ is yanked from its traditional roots and hurled into avortex of drones and swirling melody courtesy of the piping of former TG4 young musician of the year MaitiúÓ Casaide.
Awesome dexterity and a youthful exuberance pulsate through The Broken Pledge, whose minor keys and deliberate discordance give a cutting edge to familiar favourites.
The band’s three whistle players provide a contrasting freshness to the depth of the pipes, with masterful fiddle-playing from Turlough Chambers, the bouzoukis of Adam Whelan and Conor Lyons, and Natalie Ní Chasaide’s piano and harmonium building a full, imposing sound.
Reels ‘The Repeal of the Union’ and ‘O’Connell’s Trip to Parliament’ give historical context to the social commentary running through the album.
A new verse added to the song ‘An tSean Bhean Bhocht’ is a reminder that inequality and oppression still haunt modern Ireland, while Ewan McColl’s ‘Tunnel Tigers’ rams home with earthy vocal force the harsh conditions facing those who in past generations were forced to emigrate, finding work as tunnel-diggers in cities such as Glasgow and London.
Steve Cooney, guest performer on The Broken Pledge and ever equal to a new challenge, takes on the Irish harp tradition – on guitar – in ‘Ceol Ársa Cláirsí (€15).
Cooney researched the manuscripts of Edward Bunting to source tunes dating back to the 1792 Harp Assembly, including a version of ‘An Cúilfhionn’ written by Munster harper Con Lyons.
‘Sí Beag Sí Mór’, ‘Éiridh an Lae’, and ‘Eleanor Plunkett’ get the six-string treatment, Cooney’s mastery striking a chord with all guitarists weary of playing a back-seat accompanist’s role.