Earthy, but mystical, this pop-up folk quartet drift through traditional Irish songs “tackling love, poverty and oppression.”

Label: Extinct / Nimbus Recordings
Time: 9 Tracks / 51 minutes

In the world of music, where careers are fashioned for longevity and corporations manipulate the airwaves with a long-term stranglehold, The Haar’s ephemeral mayfly life is an anomaly.

This album’s liner describes how, in an Aran islands pub, a “flame-haired girl silences the room with a quiet unaccompanied song” and how it inspired fiddler Adam Summerhayes and Bodhran player Cormac Byrne to ask her to join them the next evening to record an improvised song by the rusting wreck of the Plassey on the beach in the warm sunset light. There’s a record of it here, where they play “The Lark” in a wonderful moment of unrehearsed spontaneity.

After this, the fiddler joined accordion player Murray Grainger, recording some improvised work as The Ciderhouse Rebellion, caught on their relaxed Untold album.
It was only later that Byrne thought to convene all four musicians – fiddle, accordion, bodhran and vocals – to make a similarly unprepared recording in a studio.

The Haar is the result and, both surprisingly and sadly, it doesn’t include “The Lark.” This is no hoedown accordion and fiddle, but a gently drifting account of some traditional Irish songs “tackling love, poverty and oppression.” For example, “My Lagan Love” is taken here at a glacial pace. All share an earthy folkiness.  

So as Donnery slowly sings “The Green Fields of Canada,” Grainger offers a light, low drone while Summerhayes gets bowed notes so high that they are almost a distant whistle.

That said, they do raise the pace for “Two Sisters” and it leads to a more melodic accordion, which suits it better.

Molly Donnery is highly assured, despite being the least familiar with a studio, and seems to lead the songs, while leaving space here and there for the musicians – and when she does so between verses of “Willie Taylor,” with its abrupt changes of pace, it’s hard to believe that they haven’t practised it. Byrne and Summerhayes have a remarkable pair of CVs, and I suspect that her interpretative approach to the lyrics here and her rich, peaty Celtic vocal will lead others to her door too.

For me the album works best when the accordion is thinnest (it can be intrusive at times) and the brightest highlight is “Siúil a Run,” with its well-aired, spacious sound and the more pronounced percussion. It is yet another with a striking tune and the whole track is quite magical.

Haar is that unpredictable, fleeting mist that rolls in from the Irish and North Seas, often suddenly thick, then clearing to reveal sunshine. That impetuous and mystical character gives the band its name. They arrived suddenly, recorded without rehearsing, and went their way - but like the fog, they will be back again in due course.

Derek Walker