Album Review: “Hotline” by Aidan O’Rourke (Reveal Records)

On September 25, 1956 the first submerged transatlantic telephone cable system, known as TAT-1, was inaugurated.  On July 1, 2013,  a superb new album called “Hotline” will be released on Reveal Records which is brilliantly centered around and inspired by this piece of history.  The album is a solo project from Aidan O’Rourke who is also part of the award-winning innovative folk trio Lau and the modern trad band Kan.

“Hotline” blends traditional folk & jazz elements, seamlessly moving back & forth between idioms and sometimes superimposing them in a strange & beautiful alchemy.  This all enhanced by strategically placed audio that provides historical context and field recordings captured during visits to the TAT-1 complex in Scotland.  The tracks have been tagged by Aidan himself as ‘avant garde folk’ and that turns out to be a very apt designation.  Each piece follows a very clever template in which the introductory section evokes a sense of place and time and then builds into a musical conversation that connects different idioms and bridges dichotomies, not unlike the many verbal conversations that took place over the cable itself.  The main voices in these conversations are Aidan’s fiddle, Phil Bancroft’s saxophone, and Paul Harrison’s piano, all deftly propelled by Martin O’Neills bodhran and Catriona McKay’s Scottish harp.

The opening track is appropriately titled TAT-1 and the remaining titles outline the primary historical markers that form the big picture.  We have ‘Clarenville’, the small town in Newfoundland, Canada that served as the origination point of the cable on the western side of the Atlantic.  Next is the title track, ‘Hotline’, referring to he connection between the American and Soviet heads of state carried over TAT-1, followed by ‘HMS Monarch’, the British vessel that did the majority of the work to submerge the cable.  And, finally, ‘Gallanach Bay’, the eastern connection point near Oban, Scotland, the artist’s hometown.

The music is by turns gorgeous, haunting, playful, nostalgic, and, on occasion, thrilling. It is a work that looks back on innovation of a bygone area through a musical lens that is itself innovative in a contemporary sense.  This is an album that is bursting with creativity and is built around a fascinating & cohesive concept and a musical modus operandi that seems limitless in it’s depth and possibilities.  And, the musical telepathy evident between the musicians is nothing short of amazing.  Look for this one on many a best of 2013 list at the end of the year.

You can listen here to one taste of the great music on this record, the closing track ‘Gallanach Bay’.  Also, I highly recommend reading the outstanding and informative interview with Aidan by Folk Radio UK (see link directly below).

Folk Radio UK interview with Aidan O’Rourke

“Hotline” in the Reveal Records web store