Album Review: Kilashandra’s “Live From the Parting Glass”

ALBANY – Bringing Celtic culture together with jam-band stylings is local band Kilashandra. Releasing their record, Live at the Parting Glass, the band – Mark Emanation on guitar and vocals; Chris Gil on guitar and vocal; Eileen Markland on violin, whistle, and vocals; Tom Dolan on bass and bouzouki – expertly showcase their shared love of Irish music, eclecticism, and technical prowess.

The album opens with a nice reel (“Road to Lisdoonvarna”) played initially on guitar, soon followed by violin. Throughout, the low-end from the bass greatly helps to glue it all together. One of the best parts about this type of music are the ornamentations – the ones you won’t find on any sheet music. The band does well to perform this type of music by paying great homage to its tradition. Halfway through, we switch over to another reel, dominated by the violin, and supported well by the guitar (“Cooley’s Reel”).

Unlike the majority of the record, the following two songs are original compositions. “I Remember Bobby Sands,” begins with a palm-muted acoustic guitar part. As the vocals enter the mix, we are greeted with a hauntingly reverb-saturated performance. The extremely high harmony during the chorus, put way back in the mix, is a nice arrangement touch. After the first chorus, we hear a violin part building up further and further, until it gets a nice standout feature following the second chorus. After this section, the song has a verse, and two consecutive choruses that build in intensity, before a final drop in energy as it ends.

The next song, “To Ireland From Here,” – starts with an isolated tin whistle part. It’s a great way to draw the listeners’ ears in; they are spending time wondering where this is going. As the echo-y whistle recedes temporarily, an acoustic guitar part enters. The combo of this guitar part, along with the whistle coming back to float above and below, is very captivating for this listener. During the latter half of the tune, we hear some tasty lead lines from the guitar, as the whistle takes a backseat. In the song’s outro, we hear the introductory motif as it fades to an end.

Track four, “Spancill Hill,” is a very interesting take on the traditional ballad. The version performed by Kilashandra incorporates a lot of improvisation across the array of instrumentation, and is punctuated by a vocal passage heard here and there. By doing this, the band blends together improvisational characteristics as well as traditional aspects to the song, a theme that is apparent throughout the album. Another great example of this improvisatory nature is in track five, “Red is the Rose.” The ballad opens with a lovely passage of violin, soon followed by a strong tenor lead vocal. During the song’s interlude sections, listeners hear the bouzouki and violin weave the piece together in great fashion.

Following that song is “Temperance Reel.” Wonderfully executed by the band, the piece is in the same key as the previous song, and serves well as an interlude to the next tune, “Go Lassie Go.” Also known historically as “Wild Mountain Thyme,” Kilashandra puts forth quite the compelling take on this classic tune. The contrast between the plaintive rhythm guitar part and the bold vocal is hard to miss – it’s great. What is really enjoyable about Kilashandra – in this listener’s opinion – is their ability to flawlessly oscillate between strong vocal and instrumental parts of their tunes. This song is no exception.

Officially closing the record, “Black is the Colour,” begins with an extended intro, featuring interplay between guitar and violin. After this, we hear yet another vocal start its delivery. What really sets Kilashandra aside from other Irish music acts is their tendency to lengthen the songs via jamming. Not typically heard that in this particular genre, it is a nice and refreshing change of pace. It is easy to forget this is a live album – everything is terrifically performed from start-to-finish. Listeners will get a brief reminder as the song ends with the singer bidding goodnight to everyone as the song concludes. For one more sonic offering, those that keep listening will be greeted with a brief cover of “Parting Glass.” Meant as a hidden track, the band’s rendition of the haunting hymn is performed mainly on acoustic guitar and bouzouki. Played fairly straightforward, it is perhaps the simplest, true-to-form delivery of song from the band. No frills – a great way to end the record.

An album comprised of original and traditional material, Kilashandra has put forth a record that pays homage to a vast and strong heritage, while also putting their unique stamp on the sound. Fans of Celtic music and jam bands will find this an entertaining and enjoyable listen.

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