Photos: Bríd O’Donovan
Folk lovers in Cork were treated to yet another gem this week. Following the sheer indulgence that was The Staves gig last Wednesday (Niamh’s own review with Bríd’s photos here), we found ourselves enthralled once again in the music, this time, of Irish duo, The Lost Brothers.
I first stumbled across these lovely gentlemen a year ago in the impressive surroundings of the Theatre Royal in Waterford, where they supported Cork-based band O Emperor, and filled the auditorium with sounds extracted straight from the heart of the American folk song tradition. These “brothers” have since had an eventful year with the release of their second album, So Long John Fante, as well as an appearance on the holy grail of Irish success, The Late Late Show. The Irish troubadours came together four years ago, with an organic approach to music making which reflects clear influences from folk forerunners such as Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams. I was thrilled to see their poster grace the walls of Cyprus Avenue and looked forward to hearing their mellow performance in considerably more intimate settings than our first acquaintance.
Although it may not feel like the first days of summer, Mark McCausland and Oisín Leech certainly did their best to help shed any rainy blues and transport me to a balmy summer’s evening with their heart-warming ballads. Considering the critical acclaim that has met the release of their second album in November of last year, I was surprised by the relatively small turn out for these lost brothers. Having said this, it did mean that most attendees could sit comfortably and soak in the tender tones of the duo without straining their necks and peering around the tall chap up front – a fact of which Leech expressed his appreciation, the true gentleman that he is.
And gentle folk they were. Whilst McCausland reserved those precious vocal chords for the perfect harmonies that he produced all night, Leech guided the evening with snippets of the most beautiful and gentle Navan accent I’ve ever heard, with modest introductions and the odd invitation to their gig in Dingle the following night. I wish Oisín, I wish.
Although I tend to throw around the title of “folk”, these singer songwriters have managed to create a sound which seems to combine their favourite bits from folk, rock ‘n roll and country, in a seamless and gratifying fashion. As many have done before them, they have taken the blueprints of familiar chord patterns and subjects of love and life from enduring American traditions, and constructed two albums worth of timeless gems. The success of two albums made for a rich collections of songs on the night, with a good representation from their first album, Trails of the Lonely Part I & II. Their performance of ‘Under the Turquoise Sky’, a personal favourite, was an exhibition of excellent songwriting. Other debut album favourites included ‘Last Day in the Job’ which was a welcome suggestion from a member of the happy crowd. ‘Six Black Days’ has in the past twenty four hours become my favourite from So Long John Fante, with heartwrenching lyrics that demonstrate the potential of a good, simple melody combined with equally uncomplicated poetry.
An obvious comparison is often made with The Everly Brothers, and certainly, this fifties feel is everpresent in a folk pop/rock ‘n roll touch that reminded me on many occasions throughout the night of Englishman, Richard Hawley. I wasn’t surprised in the least then, to find that The Lost Brothers are indeed acquaintances of the Sheffield musician. Furthermore, their second album was recorded in Sheffield, and features heavily the helping hands of many of Hawley’s bandmates. Similarities with The Everly Brothers are of course also in reference to the two-part harmonies that constantly elevate The Lost Brothers’ songs. (Leech’s ultra-cool dark rimmed glasses could also place him smack bang in the middle of this rock ‘n roll era, along with their polished appearance with two thirds of a three piece suit for the occasion.) Whilst Leech is predominantly on lead vocals, McCausland works effortlessly in producing flawless, pure harmonies that often comprise of parallel thirds and some juicy fourths that help to carry the flowing melodies above Leech’s comforting, gentle voice. The harmonies are never intrusive, and the simplicity and purity in which they are executed also emulate the arrangements of Simon and Garfunkel without question.
A word must also be said for the impressive guitar playing that each displayed on the night. Whilst the combination of two guitars added to the harmonic and rhythmic structure of their repertoire, it also allowed space for McCausland and Leech to include melodic fragments above rhythmic strumming played by one or the other. Their appearance in Cyprus Avenue welcomed a guest appearance from local man, Dave Murphy on pedal steel, who was on loan for the night from Cork band, John Blek and the Rats (who you’ll catch this coming Saturday in The Pavilion). Murphy’s intuitive accompaniment assisted in filling out the duo’s sound and adding a texture which created a distinct country feel and slotted perfectly into The Lost Brothers’ America-inspired set.
Although numbers may have been down for this gig, I think that we all made a conscious effort to shout and holler and make as much noise as possible in order to show our gratitude for a thoroughly enjoyable evening, considering ourselves privileged for such an intimate and special gig with these fine men. I especially liked how the boys avoided the awkward encore routine in Cyprus Avenue, which usually involves the performer traipsing back and forth through the crowd due to a lack of a backstage area. The Lost Brothers simply stepped back, sipped on their beers for a moment and allowed an acceptable amount of time for us to show our appreciation. They then returned to their mics and treated us to three more flawless ballads, ending the night finally with a stunning arrangement of ‘Moon River’, which had me smiling like the goofiest of Cheshire cats all the way home.