Photo: Sarah Flynn
By Brendan Clay
Irish folk band Lankum released their new album Between the Earth and Sky on October 27th. This is the first album they will be releasing under the name Lankum, as they were previously called Lynched but decided the name was offensive due to the unavoidable association of lynching with anti-black murder in the United States. Their current name comes from an old Irish traveller ballad, “False Lankum,” about a child murderer, which tells you just the brand of 21st century folk music that you will be hearing from them.
Rather than looking to the past for innocence, merriment, or even drunken bawdiness, Lankum mines the folk tradition for themes of alienation and reverie in a similar fashion to musicians like Nick Cave. This is combined with elements of class-consciousness and antifascism that has been an important part of folk music since Woody Guthrie. Between Earth and the Sky’s tone ranges from a subdued kind of jolliness to really pretty grim, but the clear passion, musical talent, and dark Irish wit keeps it from being dirge-like or overly self serious. It is in fact a joy to hear.
Their moody, barebones aesthetic is apparent right from the first track, where the voice of Radie Peat hauntingly delivers the Irish traveller’s lament, “What Will We Do When We Have No Money?” Like many of the songs on the album, it’s a version of an obscure folk song and uses simple instrumentation to enhance rich vocal melodies and harmonies.
“Sergeant William Bailey” sees the band at their jauntiest, cheerfully narrating the fall of an English soldier’s honor and fortune in early 20th century Ireland in a number originally written by Irish rebel composer Peadar Kearney. The ominous antifascist chant “Peat Bog Soldiers” dates back to World War II, and is performed acapella.
Their originals are excellent, too, with “Bad Luck to the Rolling Water” being a nice straightforward ditty about being abandoned by a hard drinking, tough girl.
“Déanta in Éireann,” is a much-needed modern Irish diaspora song where writer Ian Lynch explores the idealization of Ireland and the Irish abroad and its contrast with the often-hard economic realities of the nation and the complexities of its people. “The Granite Gaze”—which is available on YouTube as a trippy, stop-motion music video—speaks achingly in symbols of the despair of women and children exploited and killed in Ireland’s past.
Between Earth and Sky can be found on Amazon.com, ITunes, and other places music is sold.