THE HAAR – Where Old Ghosts Meet 
Under The Eaves Records UTE006
The Haar is less a group in the conventional sense than a coming-together of musicians, as was demonstrated on their extraordinary 2020 debut album, where the chosen songs were virtually improvised ‘in the moment’ in the studio by singer Molly Donnery, percussionist Cormac Byrne, fiddle player Adam Summerhayes and accordionist Murray Grainger, musicians blessed with a most uncanny mutual understanding. Their approach is both vindicated and consolidated on this most aptly titled follow-up album, where they ‘meet the old ghosts’ head-on by bringing their creative imagination to bear on some of the most iconic songs in the Irish tradition, affording entirely fresh insights and encouraging us to think again about these songs we thought we knew all too well. Think more along the lines of the thoughtful improv-rethink spirit of Gigspanner than the usual rip-roaring tavern-friendly crowd-pleasing renditions.

For what The Haar offer is quite literally unique. Take the album’s opener, a brooding, edgy, expansive, pulse-driven seven-minute take on Carrickfergus that’s truly spine-chilling in its dramatic impact. The spell is cast immediately: Molly’s hushed, gentle and firm delivery draws you in and keeps you hooked on her expertly nuanced natural storytelling while Adam’s fiddle improvises around the melody line and Murray’s accordion ebbs and flows with its chordings, all driven by and through Cormac’s crisp, clear and resonant bodhrán, a model of sensitive and subtle yet very ‘present’ underpinning. Yet, as the remainder of the album demonstrates, even this loose ‘framework’ or modus operandi can encompass a staggering expressive variety within its hypnotic mantra-like settings, bringing the listener cathartic jolts of surprise.

Seven further songs then receive similarly breathtaking makeovers. I’d single out especially Whiskey In The Jar, which gets to reclaim its dark character through an ominous, desperately propelled rhythm, and The Wild Rover, which is radical in its very restraint, its eerie and sinister minor-key transformation; this in its own way proves every bit as iconoclastic as Lankum’s epic Drogheda-based recording. Conversely, She Moved Through The Fair inhabits an unusual climate of love, hope and optimism through an altogether more animated momentum generated by a wild dancing bodhrán and fiddle. Danny Boy is set against a softly brushed bodhrán rhythm (think Third Ear Band maybe) and a beautiful keening extemporisation from fiddle and accordion which subsides to leave Molly’s second verse exposed in the ether. Magic – and an exceptional recording to boot!

Afterthought: is The Haar saving Raglan Road for album # 3?

David Kidman

This review appeared in Issue 145 of The Living Tradition magazine