At the time of writing, this fair isle of ours is being buffeted by storms and floods of fairly biblical proportions. It’s weather for staying indoors, wrapped in a blanket, listening to the gale howl outside the window. If you’ve a glass of whiskey to hand, so much the better. And as a soundtrack to this period of comfortable isolation, you could do much worse than check out ‘For The Storm’, the third album by Irish collective The Driftwood Manor, a collection of folk songs so spare and sparse as to be practically tailor-made for this forlorn February.
Featuring ten dark, stripped-back songs that focus on loss and death, this is appropriately chilly, wintry fare. The brief ‘Be There When I Die’, which is sung acappella by ’Manor main man Eddie Keenan, his voice pure and unadorned, makes for an arresting opener. Thereafter, the instrumentation is largely acoustic and minimalist (so much so, indeed, that the noisy, distorted electric guitar introduction of ‘Tell Your Story To A Stone (And Then Throw That Stone In A River)’ seems genuinely shocking in context), with little in the way of percussion. Keenan’s unembellished vocals are occasionally complemented by the sweet tones of Galway singer/songwriter Brigid Power-Ryce, with flute and strings (courtesy of Marie McManus and Neil Fitzgibbon respectively) making restrained, sympathetic contributions on the likes of the haunting ‘Ceremony’ and the taut ‘Afloat By The Grace Of Your God’. Throughout, the playing is understated and delicate, as on the yearning ‘Follow In The Flood’, which sees Keenan declaring, in typically sombre fashion, over a lovely, circular acoustic riff: “I am old and tired now/Yellowing like forgotten books”.
If that all makes ‘For The Storm’ sound a tad heavy and oppressive, consider that there’s also a sly and ironic wit at play here (check out the superb song titles ‘If I Could Kill The Demon Drink’ and ‘God Knows I’m A Sinner For You Now’). Moreover, at a mere 28 minutes long, this is easily digestible – accessible, even – and if anything is all too brief.
On a consistently strong album, the closing pairing of ‘God Knows I’m A Sinner…’ and ‘Limbs’ stands out in particular, seeing the record out on a suitably spectral note. The former is a beautiful expression of longing, Keenan’s acoustic and electric guitars accompanied by Fitzgibbon’s underplayed fiddle. The latter is a crepuscular, banjo-led tale of romantic jealousy that recalls Will Oldham at his most desolate, with Keenan lamenting “It’s a sin/But I would love you more than him” accompanied by deep, foreboding-sounding backing vocals and a rare percussive intervention in the form of understated bodhrán.
So do yourself a favour: Dim the lights, set the fire going, pour yourself a wee dram and put ‘For The Storm’ on the record player. It might be bleak outside, but The Driftwood Manor remind us that there is always beauty to be found in the darkness.