As often happens in folk music familiar faces will turn up in different combinations and that’s the case with Glasgow based Ímar. Ryan Murphy (Mànran), Tomás Callister and Adam Rhodes (Mec Lir), Mohsen Amini (Talisk) and Adam Brown (RURA) originally met as teenagers through the Irish traditional music network Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann before going their separate ways and winning many awards. Coming back together they explore and reconnect with the traditional music they first new before branching out. Awakening is their third album and the first since Avalanche in 2018, which is probably not a surprise. Although taking a more traditional approach than the other bands they play with, the ten tracks here are mostly tune sets with Tomás Callister and Mohsen Amini providing the majority and then traditional pieces to complete the soundscape.
‘Bangers’ gets the album off to a flying start, weaving high energy and skilled musicianship around three tunes; ‘Only Room For Mash’, ‘The Penny Farthing’ and ‘Heraghty’s’. The last two are inspired by favoured pubs and whilst it’s the uilleann pipes and whistle of Ryan Murphy that lead both the bodhran and strummed guitar add the essential foundation that holds it all together and the fiddle and concertina flesh out the sound. I sometimes wonder where tune set names come from but this is certainly a banger of an opening that will get the feet moving and toes tapping.
As well as the sets there are also longer, individual pieces that allow an idea to develop. ‘Waterhorses’, by Tomás Callister, gives everyone a chance to shine with no instrument dominating the others but all taking turns at the lead. There’s a great joy to this tune with a lot of movement and freedom coming through the sound.
‘Eoghainn’s’ follows it and Ryan Murphy’s composition is a more considered piece, because not everything should be fast for the sake of it. Another lovely flowing tune, the rhythms and layers work well. The same can be said of Tomás Callister’s ‘Imagine A World’ where the pipes and fiddle combine for a restful piece capturing wide open spaces. These slower pieces give time for pause and reflection amongst the more frenetic tunes.
‘The Stinger’ brings us back to the tune set that audiences love to dance to. Again there are three tunes, one traditional and one each from Tomás Callister and Ryan Murphy, that work well together in a vibrant piece. Once again the guitar and bouzouki hold it all together whilst the fiddle, flute and concertina weave their magic.
The album was released on 21st April and is available through their website as a CD. As with their other albums the cover, with artwork by Bruno Cavellec, is worth a look. Big, bold and Norse it sums up the album well. The enforced rest of lockdown did Ímar no harm at all and they’re back, cementing a reputation for superb music that honours the past and its roots without being constrained by either.