Through a Musical Lens: Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and Thomas Bartlett

Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and Thomas Bartlett cover

Watching a city awaken on autumn morning through rivulets of rain running down a coffee shop window seems only fitting while while listening to the new album created by Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh with his 10-string hardanger d’amore and pianist/producer Thomas Bartlett aka Doveman while musing on the implications of their selection of ‘Snow’ (1960) by pioneering photographer Saul Leiter for the cover.

The two have worked together since 2011 as members of the Irish/American folk supergroup The Gloaming where Bartlett describes their role as making “cloud shapes” around the band’s “volcanic” core, and this new solo record can be seen as something of a serendipitous outgrowth of that project. The initial spark came while The Gloaming was on tour in Mexico in the spring of 2015 and Bartlett and ÓRaghallaigh found themselves alone in a studio session where they ended up creating two tracks (“Zona Rosa” and “The Wanderer”). The rest of the album would be developed over two more sessions, one in Peter Gabriel‘s Real World Studios a year later, and a final one in New York during the autumn of 2017. The end result is equally a fluent conversation between two musicians with a telepathic rapport and a free-spirited peregrination that draws inspiration from musical sources as diverse as Keith Jarrett and Van Morrison as well as literary ones such as WG Sebald, Roald Dahl and Antoine deSaint-Exupéry.

“Compare having a conversation with one person, to sitting down around a table with five people. No matter what the language is, those are going to be fundamentally very different conversations and very different ways of interacting.”

Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh

Links:  Bandcamp  | Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh | Thomas Bartlett (Doveman)

“It just felt so completely natural. There is a lot of delight between us, and I think both of us really loves the other’s playing, in a pretty uncomplicated way. I don’t want to listen to myself – it’s not of any interest to me. But the sounds that Caoimhin coaxes out of his instrument, I find so beautiful. That I can be a part of that, and facilitate, is just delightful to me.”

Thomas bartlett

As for Saul Leiter’s photograph of silhouettes moving through a snow-covered cityscape through the blurred perspective of an interior window covered in condensation, it is an arresting image that teems with thematic possibilities that Ó Raghallaigh sees as intrinsically connected to the spirit of the music he and Bartlett set out to create.

“The combination of the definite and the doubt, this moment flickered for a second and was gone, the choreography of human life conspiring for Saul and his lens.There’s such a beauty and strength to that central character, the mystery created by the blur and smear of the windowpane, the weather, the condensation, the obfuscation. It all conspires to affect you deeply and leave you with a feeling, a space in your head that asks for calm and quiet and time to digest and to dream.It is an extraordinary image.And it says to me those things I would love our music to say to others.”

Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh

To be sure, one could listen to these tunes without the benefit of any of this background and thoroughly enjoy them in all their exhilarant beauty, but those additional narrative threads and thoughtful references add layers of sublime nuance to take delight in.  Add to that the spry elegance of Bartlett’s and ÓRaghallaigh‘s impeccable musicianship and their seemingly effortless mastery traversing a wide swath of genres with equal attention to narrative and atmospheric texture and you have a special record indeed.

Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and Thomas Bartlett 2019
photo by Heidi Solander