(c) 2004 Earle Hitchner
Like k.d. lang and e.e. cummings, bohola prefers its name in lower-case letters. But there's nothing lower-case about the music performed by this Chicago band, named after a jig and a town in Mayo and expanded from a trio to a quartet last year.
In an era that has culturally surrendered to short-attention spans, bohola makes music boldly out of lockstep with the stagnant quo. Of the 10 tracks on their new CD, "4" (Shanachie 78058), six are more than seven minutes long, with one clocking in at 13:22, and their previous, self-titled Shanachie album had a track almost 13 minutes long. Each situates a song within a carefully crafted arrangement of tunes, shifting mood with melody that takes the listener on a journey alternately ruminative and rousing.
"Queen of the Fairies/In London So Fair/Porthole of the Kelp" is a case in point. The longest track on the album, it starts with a set dance played slowly by Jimmy Keane on piano accordion, Sean Cleland on fiddle, and Pat Broaders on dordan (bass bouzouki). On "In London So Fair," new member Kat Eggleston's voice enters softly in an old-fashioned stereo arc (right to left for those wearing headphones) before asserting itself front and center. Then, near the end, her vocal trades off at times with a reel from Keane's accordion, Cleland's fiddle, and Broaders's dordan.
Dublin-born Pat Broaders has a voice soaked in the pub milieu of Chicago. The sand in his timbre and the directness in his delivery bring an experiential depth to such ballads as "The Wexford Fisherman," "Jolly Young Ploughboy," "The Constitution and the Guerriere," and "Lonesome Robin," all set within multi-tune frameworks. Another song wrapped in tunes, "All on the Mountains High," features Broaders and Eggleston swapping lead vocal and also blending in harmony.
The most stirring song on the CD, however, is "How Will I Ever Be Simple Again?" Written by Richard Thompson, who first recorded it on his 1986 album "Daring Adventures," the song was later covered by British vocalist Christine Collister with ponderously martial, emotion-goosing sound effects.
Wisely, bohola lets this moving song speak for itself. Through the band's spare arrangement (mainly Broaders' dordan), the invisible ravages of war become as sensory as the visible ones: "In her poor burned-out house I sat at her table / The smell of her hair was like cornfields in May / And I wanted to weep, and my eyes ached from trying / Oh, how will I ever be simple again?" Eggleston sings these lines with insight and stark clarity, and she's expertly complemented by Broaders on harmony.
Bookending the CD are instrumentals: "Callipygian/Hoban's on 63rd/O'Keefe's Mother's," all fiery dance tunes, and "Gweneen," Jimmy Keane's tribute to fiddler Gwen Sale, who was killed by a reckless driver in Chicago on May 8, 2002. This melody is played with a lovely, light buoyancy, then with more zing and zip, all attributes of Sale herself.
Not everything works optimally on "4." The vocal harmony on "The Wexford Fisherman" gets a little frayed, and the hairbreadth gap between two tracks, "Jolly Young Ploughboy/Bohola March/The Flower of the Flock" (7:05) and "Parnell's March/The Constitution and the Guerriere/The Siege of Ennis/Egan's/Cuz's Favourite/Ballydesmond" (8:51), might be stretching the concept of length a bit too long.
But this music isn't meant to kowtow to the quick-hit, attention-depleted, rotational music cycles dominating much of contemporary radio, noncommercial included. bohola's "4" has a loftier, worthier goal in mind: challenging the listener to rise above the safety of sameness.
With two CDs on Shanachie now and four albums overall, bohola has clearly broken out of its Midwest backyard and taken its rightful place among the most stimulating and engaging Irish traditional bands in America today.
Check out the artist's website:
1. Callipygian/Hoban's On 63rd/O'Keefe's Mother's
2. The Ashe March/The Wexford Fisherman/The Lark In The Mountain...
3. Queen Of The Fairies/In London So Fair/Porthole Of The Kelp
4. Jolly Young Ploughboy/Bohola March/The Flower Of The Flock
5. Parnell's March/The Constitution & The Guerriere/The Siege Of...
6. The Old Orange Lodge/All On The Mountains High/The New Orange...
7. Bluehill/Lonesome Robin/Carracastle Lasses
8. There Was A Lady/The Lonesome Road To Dingle/Katie Scollard's
9. How Will I Ever Be Simple Again?