What do you do if you’re essentially an Irish traditional band who also want “to represent an underlying dissatisfaction that we believe to be present in our generation”, as lead vocalist and lyricist Joe Campbell-McArdle puts it? Lonesome George decided to do both on their debut album, Flat As The Earth, which leaves us with the question – does it work? I’m still trying to decide.
Let’s say first that the playing is excellent: basically guitar, mandolin, flute, whistles and percussion with occasional guest musicians but Lonesome George don’t overdo it. They tackle a nine-minute instrumental set, ‘Ruairi’s Lullaby’ with great aplomb and the assistance of Paddy McKeown on fiddle and Brendan Loughran on concertina and exhibit the same skill in the arrangements of their songs. The mandolin of Myles McCormack is the second lead instrument and Dermot Moynagh completes the line-up on bodhran and percussion.
Their songs adhere to Theodore Roosevelt’s maxim – “speak softly and carry a big stick”. It’s not uncommon to match harsh words to a pretty tune but Joe has a very delicate voice and relies on the rest of the band for the forcefulness – Stiofan Loughran’s flute is key on the opening ‘Where We Gonna Be?’, an ecology song with perhaps too much resignation in its lyrics. ‘Lies And Adverts’ is definitely anti-capitalist with some clever lines and ‘Mercy’, about refugees and specifically the Calais jungle, is beautifully constructed.
The second half of the record opens with ‘Ruari’s Lullaby’ and is perhaps heavier on the instrumental side of Lonesome George’s performance. The two concluding songs, ‘Variety’ and ‘Alleycat Preacher’ develop the ideas set out in ‘Lies And Adverts’ – manipulation of thoughts and opinions, how easy it can be to conform and the power of religion – perhaps more keenly felt in Northern Ireland than here.