Alex Monaghan - Folkworld

Without doubt this is one of the lushest, loudest and liveliest Celtic folk albums to struggle out of the 2020 cultural quicksand which has drowned many projects and clogged countless others. Somehow the Manx lads of Mec Lir found enough studio time and collaborators to make a massive (in the Ali G sense) recording which pushes all the buttons – the right ones for young funksters like myself who are down with the groove and tripping out to the beats and loops, and probably the wrong ones for folk purists who will think this is too fast, too bottom-heavy, or simply lacking the requisite amount of cow bell – sorry – respect for tradition!

Me? I love it. Fully fronted by the fiddle of Tomàs Callister, a phenomenal talent who spreads himself across several great bands these days, Mec Lir fills every inch of the acoustic space with Greg Barry’s drums, Adam Rhodes’ fretted strings, and David Kilgallon’s magic keyboards. On this second album, they’ve taken advantage of lockdown to collar some mighty musicians who were just sitting around at home twiddling their tuners: piper Calum Stewart who makes a lasting impression with his own tune Schottishe Kerlou, Ciaran Ryan whose banjo plucks the Swedish Garageschottis out of obscurity, Sarah Markey on flute and Rachel Hair on harp for some slightly calmer moments of traditional Irish reels and polkas, and the irrepressible box, bodhrán and electric guitar of Paddy Callaghan, Adam Brown and Davie Dunsmuir.

The second half of Livewire is mainly Callister compositions, with a great Quebec reel and a couple of pieces by Tomàs’ buddy Mohsen Amini in Ímar and the ubiquitous fiddler David Lombardi. The familiar heat of Firebird, the rash of polkas on The Ram (also available as a single), the more lyrical jig Lewis & Molly’s, and the typewriter techno of Palm Bay build to an inevitable crazy climax, more Iron Maiden than Irish Trad, definitely with cow bell. In the middle of the CD is a fascinating archive recording of Manx Gaelic from 1948, a rare example of this language from a native speaker before the recent revival, set over a dramatic musical arrangement which is about the only slow piece here. This is an album which more than lives up to its name, and for musicality as much as iconoclasm may well give us some classic tracks in years to come.