Blackbird & Crow — Ailm (17 Jan 2020)Ireland flag             Blackbird & Crow — Ailm (17 Jan 2020) Blackbird & Crow — Ailm (17 Jan 2020)
■    Nebetyčná práce transcendentální emocionální síly, chvějící se sílou i zranitelností. Je nepravděpodobné, že byste letos něco podobného slyšeli.
Location: Donegal, Ireland
Album release: 17 Jan 2020
Record Label: M.I.G. Music
Duration:     59:20
01 Harlot on Holy Hill   1:18
02 The Witch That Could Not Be Burned   4:33
03 Princess of the Ditch   3:45
04 Blackbird   4:48
05 Margaret the Martyr   3:51
06 The Planter and the Runaway   5:49
07 A Pox on You   3:58
08 Parting Rag   4:52
09 Sweet Surrender   5:23
10 Orphan’s Lament   4:33
11 Mo Chuisle   5:00
12 Mór Ríoghain   6:15
13 The Ways That I Can Make You Suffer   5:09
℗ 2019 M. i. G. ■ music  Blackbird & Crow © 2020 Author: Megan Doherty
Donegal duo:
°   Maighréad Ní Ghrásta    Vocals 
°   Stephen John Doohan   Guitar, keyboards, violin, cello drums, trumpet, sax, Uillean pipes and low whistle.
by Mike Davies 24 January, 2020
°   Ailm is the mesmerising second album by Donegal duo Maighréad Ní Ghrásta and Stephen John Doohan, the title for which refers to the letter in Ogham. Ogham is an Early Medieval Irish alphabet and Ailm is the twentieth letter which represents conifer which, in turn, is associated with healing. Founded on a search for healing, it combines Irish folklore, blues, psychedelia and Americana in a work of melodically intense and powerful gothic noir that might be described as Celtic Nick Cave or Wovenhand, steeped in darkness and populated by the souls of the lost.
°   Maighréad’s vocals are, for the most part, delivered, almost declamatory style, in a heady Gaelic accent with Stephen’s guitar work, often using slide, calls the rawness of White Stripes to mind, complemented by keyboards that shift from maelstroms to quiet eddies, their work augmented by contributions on violin, cello,  drums, trumpet, sax, Uillean pipes and low whistle.
°   The enterprise unequivocally sets out its stall as the first two tracks run together, distorted slide setting the scene for Harlot On Holy Hill, Maighréad speaking the first~person lyrics, taking responsibility for her own successes and failures while accusing her would~be saviour as an immature soul and that “your ego and your judgements have outwitted their home”. This flows directly into The Witch That Could Not Be Burned on which the opening lines set the equally defiant mood with “I never learned the art of keeping people guessing/I have no desire to waste my precious time on wanting”, her eyes flashing and fire in her blood as she faces a crowd of persecutors bearing pitchforks uncowed, drums exploding like bombshells behind her as she roars “yis can run me out of town boys, yis can run me off your land/But you’ll never break me boys”. Indeed, listening to this it would be a brave man who even thought of crossing her.
°   It’s not all their own material and the first of the two covers comes with a reverb~heavy treatment of  Princess Of The Ditch, a murder ballad written by  Kilkenny singer~songwriter Richie Healy and featured, in far more acoustic and slurred form on his 2017 album The Perilous Tree.
°   There’s a melodic hint of Cohen to Blackbird, a stark acoustic~framed song about kindred dark souls (“I see that pain inside you…it’s the same inside of me”) finding each other, joined in perhaps either damnation or salvation, the crashing cymbals and bouzouki introducing an eastern flavour before it erupts into a dervish fury.
°   Things calm down again for the tale of Margaret The Martyr, an account all too familiar in Ireland of a wife left at home to run the house, often in desperate straits, while her husband left for London to find work, having affairs before dying young and leaving her, the children having flown the nest,  alone in misery. As it says, it’s not an uncommon tale, similar girls “locked in their homes/Slaves to their loved ones, used and abused” as Maighréad asks “was it worth it now your stories told…” Blackbird & Crow — Ailm
°   Riding pulsing acoustic guitar and drone, The Planter and the Runaway is one of the more sung rather than spoken numbers, again concerning the drawing together of damaged souls as she asks “why aren’t ye runnin’? That’s what they usually do”, a song of willing submission, albeit one might question the foundation of such surrender.
°   Needless to say, relationships don’t always run smoothly, hence the seething, brooding and feral tone of A Pox On You, returning to images of witchery with curses cast in revenge for being condemned to “emotional purgatory” by someone with a cold heart. Turning to a slow march tempo, a number hovering at the edge of mortality, the stirring Parting Rag has an anthemic, valedictory air about it, again built upon defiance of the odds (“They said my end was near and I’m still here”) by a tortured soul with a troubled mind and “a Paddy’s heart and a wanderin’ eye”. The mention that he’s called Shane shouldn’t make it too hard to join the dots.
°   Sweet Surrender (which like, Blackbird, is also included as a radio edit) draws on gospel and soul influence in its search by “a woman of fire” but “out of control” for peace and redemption before, on the wings of fluttering guitar and ethereal Celtic mist vocals (you can understand why Clannad’s Moira Brennan championed them), they offer the second cover, Orphan’s Lament. It was written by the late American singer~songwriter and primitive guitarist Robbie Basho, himself an adopted orphan, born Robinson but taking the name of the Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō, who created, essentially, an American raga with his fingerpicking style, the song appears on his 1978 album Visions of the Country.
°   Another musically stark and raw~seamed number, opening with the line “You are not what they say, you deserve to be loved”,  accompanied by just Doohan’s resonator, Mo Chuisle (it means pulse of my heart)  is a towering song about healing and moving beyond the scars on the heart and soul, the track taking on even greater power when you know the line “you turned a blind eye Tusla” is a reference to Ireland’s Child and Family Agency designed for support and protection from abuse and neglect. Though, in this case, clearly failed.
°   Another Gaelic title and its three repeated lines sung to a fingerpicked accompaniment interspersed by a sudden burst of thundering, clattering drums,  the six~minute  Mór Ríoghain refers to Mórrígan, a figure from Irish mythology meaning  “phantom queen” and associated with war and fate, encouraging warriors on to brave deeds. And death.
°   A nerves~jangling drone and harmonium opens final track,  The Ways That I Can Make You Suffer, which, evoking This Mortal Coil and vocalist Elizabeth Fraser, offers a litany of pain variously caused by the feelings of guilt, loss, love, regret, and emptiness that, if healing is to take place have to be acknowledged. Catharsis rather than condemnation. ° 
Joachim ’Joe’ Brookes, 8. Januar 2020