Album Reviews cua: Songs of the Hollow written by Richard Hollingum14 December, 2017 cua – Songs of the HollowSelf Released – 14 October 2017 Well, here I am, in a bit of a quandary. Listening to Songs of the Hollow, the new album by cua, and wondering. Not hard, earnest wondering but enough wondering to spend some time in consideration. Considering what? you may wish to know. Well, it’s not the music itself – that’s very good – its just placing it. I am not one for essential classification. Well not that much. Like most self-respecting music collectors, I do like a certain amount of pigeon-holing if only to inform myself at a later date as to what goes with what. I would also add that although I might subscribe to sub-genres, I don’t head off into sub-sub-genres ad infinitum. However I do like to think where I could place an album and what I might play before or after, either to maintain the ambience or for contrast. And every now and then along comes an album that makes you think – and wonder. cua (with no capitals) are a three-piece band from Ireland who have set their stall out somewhere between the Emerald Isle and the other side of the pond, taking in a few points elsewhere. They describe their music as ‘Atlantean’ referring to this transatlantic connection rather than a mythical submerged classical city. It is easy to see why they do this as they bring together different aspects of different styles – close harmony singing, echoes of West Coast country rock, Irish melodies, southern European bouzouki. In some songs these blends have a clear bias towards one heritage; in others, the blends produce their own sound that adds extra interest. The more American results of the equation comes through in many guises. The Eagles, one of their named influencers, is clearly present in Chest’s Final Beat and in The Somewhere Waltz (think Another Saturday Night with Irish overtones and fiddle). Hollow Men has a definite Simon & Garfunkel pre-Bridge Over Troubled Water feel and Bluegrass seems to be somewhere in Lonely Island. There is even a bit of show tune in Hot Blooded, a number that could be adapted for a jazz blues band. The Irish element is never very far away, often appearing as a lyrical or jaunty refrain between verses or as the middle eight, as in the opening track, Atlantic Cross, which is also a huge clue to what cua are about. A Stone On A Beach is a contemporary take on the Irish ballad. It is not only the musical styles that are varied. The subjects vary from love songs to songs of loss and songs of hope. There are also songs of anger: Waco on the perils of belief, Animals on a brutal assault and The Other Man, an indictment on the trend to say that it’s nothing to do with me, a song made sharper by its a cappella presentation. Kings and Queens provides more echoes of Irish defiance applicable to all. The past is brought up to date when enslavement is not restricted to capture through war but the enslavement due to the actions of the “tea-leaf in the three-piece suit”.
The only tune on the album is Black Dog. It starts with the promise of a Hungarian czardas but shifts territory slightly into a less frenetic dance, lulling you into a false sense of sedentary movement before it flies off about two-thirds of the way through, leaving you whirling around in circles. The tracks also vary from a cappella to multi-instruments. The violin is not contained to Irish melodies, the guitar at times carries classical overtones, and the percussion is effective yet unobtrusive, holding it all together without overshadowing. Listen to the intro to the last track, Mother Earth, and enjoy the build up as Bouzouki brings in the violin which in turn brings in the guitar. So, back to the wondering. You might think that this album seems disjointed – which it isn’t – or has too much variety – which it doesn’t. What it is, is a reflection of the broad interests of the band, and of us all. Which musician does not take a bit from here, another bit from there? No one ever complained about the George Harrison tracks on basically a Lennon & McCartney album (though I’m not sure about Ringo’s offerings). So I’ve stopped wondering and now simply enjoy Songs of the Hollow, an album of variety and of voices, of echoes and of influences, and of emotions and passions. Order Songs of the Hollow viahttps://www.cuamusic.com/
‘songs of the hollow’ from cua - uncompromising and innovative (February 12, 2018) The point about anything that’s truly ‘different’ is finding that moment when unusual becomes singular rather than strange. The latest album from decidedly different band, cua (in addition to being atypical they’re averse to capital letters) is unlike anything else, indeed it’s reasonable to describe ‘songs of the hollow’ as unique. The instrumental blend is not that radical ... fiddle, guitar, bouzouki ... however the dynamic delivery of those instruments, minutiae of melody, arrangements and three-part harmonies are uncompromising and innovative. There’s obvious folk music styling, beyond that is a mix of influence that interlaces, separates and coalesces to such an extent that you keep hearing snippets of genres from traditional to innovative, moving at such a pace it’s almost impossible to pin down.The more you listen the more you hear ... the roots of heritage, explosions of jazz with bluesy overtones, Eastern Europe mixed with Americana, free-ranging snippets of avant garde, Irish tradition from both sides of the Atlantic, acapella ... there’s a maelstrom of input. From the moment ‘Atlantic Cross’ opens the exceptional mix manifests itself, expands with ‘The Hollow Man’ and further intrigues with the acidic lyrics of ‘The Other Man’, before ‘Chest’s Final Beat’ and the rabid ‘Black Dog’ have you involved in this music. There are 15 tracks on the album each distinctive, different and equally impressive.The album is ‘songs of the hollow’ and cua are John Davidson (fiddle, percussion, vocals) Shane Booth (guitar vocals) and Ros O’Meara (bouzouki, guitar, percussion, vocals) ... and you should look out for both.Website: www.cuamusic.comReview: Tim Carroll [folkwords.com]
Saturday, 2 December 2017 Album: cua - Songs of the Hollow
Info: John Davidson, Shane Booth & Ros O'Meara bring together dynamic and contrasting instrumentation and vocal arrangements. The group have an expansive acoustic soundtrack blending guitars, fiddle, bouzouki, percussion and 3 part harmony arrangements to create a world music folk styling that the group call Atlantean. cua have steadily built a reputation and following for their engaging, passionate and highly original performances. The cua live experience has been compared to the intricacies of Planxty melodies combined with the harmony skills of Crosby, Stills and Nash.
The high quality musicianship on cua's Songs of the Hollow is immediately apparent on opening track 'Atlantic Ocean', the sinuous method applied to mandolin, guitar and fiddle feels both free-flowing whilst admirably reflecting a craftsmanship which has been perfected over many years. This introduction both harks back to the peak of traditional folk with a slightly blues-rock edge, a more energised version of Pentangle meeting Free's Fire and Water, and of course developing into a gripping contemporary Irish trad mould.
That energy carries through to third track 'She Has Me', in all of the best ways a quaint old world dirge of love, we get the first inkling of how tight their a capella harmonies are, and the fiddle-playing is joyful, leaving a lasting mark. 'Hot Blooded' creates an image of migrant Irish bedding down in a rural town in America in the 1800's, there is also a swing towards early 60's pop-rock in the vocals, á la The Beatles or Donovan.
cua get down to bare bones on 'The Other Man', perhaps a reflective take on the malaise in Ireland over the last decade with Martin Niemöller's famous quote when interned by the Nazi's springing to mind. If you don't stand up for the weakest in your society, or against injustice, there will come the day when there's no one left to stand up for you.
Starting out like something you would expect to find on a Wes Anderson soundtrack, 'Black Dog' is theatrical and has that medieval court sensibility, the developing frenetic pace is dizzying and fulfilling all at one. The Crosby, Stills & Nash Americana influence lands on 'I Blame You', it's a beautifully tender piece which, if you heard it on the radio, you would swear it was directly from their era.
'Waco' is a big highlight in the album's latter half, the simple hand-clap beat and shaker percussion proving bigger than the sum of their parts. The harmonies are amazing here, you'd be doing well to hear any better elsewhere, it's the perfect exemplar of cua's talents. 'Kings and Queens' is a delightful homage to past times in its delivery, a better word for intricate is required here but it eludes me. Songs of the Hollow closes with 'Mother Earth', and the trio bring the best of Irish traditional music home to roost, it would be a deaf ear that couldn't admire and be moved in some way by the track, the jig is literally up and out of the bag from the 2:42 mark.
There is a new wave occurring right now where acts steeped in traditional music, melding Irish, American and British influences, and infusing them with an array of different genres, are shifting from a singular audience to a wider one. Whilst it's not the first time that this has happened in Ireland, with groups like Planxty, Horslips and Dé Dannan breaching the void in the seventies, it feels like the net is being cast further afield and with more frequency right now, and it's all thanks to the innovation of acts like cua.
Songs of the Hollow will be available to purchase and stream shortly so keep on eye on their website and social media platforms below.
“Featuring four tracks, it starts with some resounding singing ahead of the deeply affecting instrumentation of “(and if) The Morning’s Alright”. Its poignancy is maintained by the soft and solemn serenade of the verse. The mood becomes a little merrier as the music picks up cheerfully for an uplifting chorus. The guitars and strings are extremely touching throughout, helping to forge an emotional but affable opening number. “Celebrate” takes off upon intense acoustic instrumentation, which sets an ominous ambience. This foreboding feel continues through a chilling harmony that stays sombre yet spirited as it sails forcefully forward. There’s a strong sense of urgency to the whole thing, causing it to have an effect that’s simultaneously exciting and unnerving. “No” is another portentous piece, packed full of traditional techniques and vivid vocals which cut deep. The acute guitars pierce persistently, while sobering strings relay more meaning than words ever could. ” - Dave Simpson, Pure M Magazine (Sep 30, 2015)
A woman in the front row is tellingCua she’s excited. She has heard them on Youtube and thought the folk three-piece made some exceedingly “pretty noises”. She is told in bantering fashion: ‘We can do pretty noises.’ It turns out to be an apt appraisal of the show, particularly given the set’s smooth blend of styles, such as the Middle Eastern sounds of ‘The Gimp and the Anvil’. A rendition of the well-known ‘Ye Jacobytes by Name’ has the small, appreciative crowd entranced early on. Delivered a Capella in a rousing chant harmony, it functions as a rallying cry. Otherwise, the band’s set is entirely original material, taken from the album and EP they have released to date. The overall sound is characterised by swirling, muscular textures and powerful vocals. Though acoustic, at full pelt, it can even get raucous. One highlight was ‘King and Queens’, a song about ‘how the rich get fat and the poor get beaten’ that makes clear the historical interests and social conscience of this thoughtful, intelligent band.