Assured debut album from a Manx Gaelic singer making significant waves in Celtic circles (Mary Ann Kennedy is an avowed admirer) who has already taken singing unaccompanied to audiences of 10,000 plus (in Lorient’s Stade du Moustoir) firmly in her stride.
Following hot on the heels of the widely acclaimed inaugural release by Barrule (whose Tomas Callister and Adam Rhodes contribute fiddle and tenor banjo and cover design, respectively) there’s clearly something going on over on Mona’s Isle that demands wider investigation. Like Barrule, Keggin acknowledges the influence of singer-songwriter Greg Joughin (a Meic Stevens-like figure on the Manx music scene), opening with a deft interpretation of the traditional Fin As Oshin, sourced from Joughin’s Mollag Band.
Keggin emerges as a singer of real range and depth, capable of soaring from warm lows to clear highs on Graih Foalsey, and of keeping the listener’s attention through unaccompanied Gaelic songs like Arrane Y Skeddan. The arrangements are brisk, inventive and syrup-free, with Vanessa McWilliams’ fluid double-bass lines and David Pearce’s versatile guitar outstanding throughout. The latter’s bowed acoustic on Tree Eeasteyryn Boghtey (Three Poor Fishermen) effectively adds to the tragic atmosphere of the ballad, while his hypnotically dextrous twangage elsewhere suggests a familiarity with Johnny Marr, as much as John Doyle.
There’s a fine Manx language version of She Moves Through The Fair and a couple of English language songs – an earworm version of The Road To Clady (familiar from the late Eithne Ní Uallacháin’s singing with Lá Lugh) which is racking up the hits on YouTube at a rapid rate, and a jazz-inflected original by Breesha Madrell, the melody of which slightly evokes All About Eve’s Martha’s Harbour.
Sheear, released with the assistance and endorsement of Culture Vannin, represents an important milestone for Manx trad, providing both a wholly satisfying musical experience (one which should immediately appeal to fans of both Julie Fowlis and Kate Rusby) and irrefutable evidence that the Manx language (erroneously declared “extinct” by UNESCO in 2009) is actually growing in stature, along with events like the Island’s superb annual Yn Chruinnaght festival.