Album Review: NoCrows, Why Us
Fifth album from Sligo folk collective
Formed over a decade ago by musicians from Sligo’s impressively diverse music scene, NoCrows embrace Irish traditional, jazz, classical and world music styles in equal measure. The presence of Waterboy Steve Wickham in their ranks has drawn them added attention, but they are a multi-instrumental ensemble outfit, who describe themselves – not inaccurately – as a “folk orchestra”.
Among the highlights of Why Us? are the jaunty Tex-Mex instrumental ‘Can We Borrow The Cat’, the Greek-flavoured ‘The Monk’s Head’ and the jazzy ‘Written In Sand’. Indeed, with its acoustic guitar, mandolin and light percussion, the latter could easily sit alongside Ry Cooder’s work with the Buena Vista Social Club.
Elsewhere, ‘Senor’ is a lush romantic ballad with a lovely string arrangement, while the title track begins as a plaintive, atmospheric instrumental before exploding into life. Rounding out this hugely enjoyable album, meanwhile, is Steve Wickham’s beautifully haunting ‘The Other Side’. Essential listening for trad aficionados.
PRESS RELEASE NOVEMBER 2016:
NOCROWS – “Why Us?” CD Launch in December 2016
NoCrows is a dynamic folk orchestra from the multicultural melting pot of Sligo’s music scene. Formed in 2005, NoCrows’ growing output of original material reflects its diverse musical roots, from Irish traditional to latin rumba, classical, jazz, rock and Balkan music.
NoCrows celebrates twelve years of its musical journey in 2017 with a fifth CD, entitled “Why Us?”. The CD will be launched at two special Christmas concerts in Dublin and Sligo, followed by an Irish tour in January and February and subsequent international tours to Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Belgium. The Irish launch dates are:
Thursday 22 December 7:30pm HMV Soundgarden, Sligo
Felip Carbonell – guitar, percussion, voice
Ray Coen – guitar, fiddle, voice
Anna Houston – cello, mandolin, voice
Eddie Lee – double bass, electric bass, voice
Oleg Ponomarev – violin, voice
Steve Wickham – fiddle, mandolin, viola, voice
“Why Us?”, the band’s fifth CD, contains thirteen original musical delights, five songs and eight instrumentals, recorded in Rían Trench’s Meadow studios in Wicklow in September 2016. The band’s most mature recording to date includes compositions by all six members and displays the growing presence of multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter, Ray Coen. “On this album” says Coen, “we have tried to capture the feel of our live performances, with all six of us recording together in one room. We believe that we have captured the essence of NoCrows on this CD”.
An “irresistibly sparkling collection”… Colm O’Hare, Hot Press Magazine, May 2014 (Waiting for the Tide review, 2014)
“… a coming of age” Irish Times (Waiting for the Tide, 2014)
“…oh, what a joy to listen to!” Irish Music Magazine (Waiting for the Tide, 2014)
‘The four musicians possess an emphatic understanding of each other’s musical nuances and the results are collective alchemy in action. Magpie is a gloriously freewheeling eclectic combination which, like NoCrows, defies classification’
John O’Regan, fRoots
‘You can sense the pleasure they find in each other’s playing’
Joe Breen, The Irish Times
‘Swing rarely felt this good’
Siobhán Long, The Irish Times
‘If No Crows lived in London, they’d be famous by now’
Geoff Wallis, Irish Music Review.com
NoCrows – The Fourth CD: Waiting for the Tide
Launch date 24 May 2014.
Waiting for the Tide, NoCrows’ fourth album, is a milestone for the group. The first release since 2010’s “NoCrows on the Moon”, Waiting for the Tide has more vocals than any other NoCrows album, with the addition of singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Ray Coen to the NoCrows line up. It’s also purely a “band” album: unlike the last effort, this record has no guest musicians. The music came together on two trips to Sligo’s Coney Island. As Sligo-based Mallorcan guitarist Felip Carbonell calls it, “La Isla de Los Conejos”, the island of the rabbits, it’s a tiny island with just a few human inhabitants, nestled inconspicuously in the middle of Sligo bay, halfway between Rosses Point and Strandhill. The band went to Coney for its closeness, yet isolation.
The band’s line up has expanded to six in the past year: Sligo singer songwriter Ray Coen is the newest member. Having been drafted in on occasion over the past number of years, Ray has contributed much music and personality to the band, and so was invited to become a full-time member. Likewise, violinist & composer Oleg Ponomarev, of Loyko, Yurodny and Koshka fame, has toured and recorded as a guest of NoCrows for some years now. Ponomarev’s Eastern European Gypsy influence in the group has grown over time and this recording features two of his compositions as well as original material from his five bandmates.Coen and Ponomarev add their own creative force to an already swirling melting pot of musical styles and cultures, driven by Swiss cellist/mandolinist Anna Houston, Carbonell’s manouche guitar stylings and bassist Eddie Lee’s driving lines. Waterboys fiddler and long time Sligo resident, Steve Wickham, is a founder member of the ensemble and he makes a particularly poignant vocal tribute to his beloved Sligo’s beauty on his song “Rainbow over Sligo”. It is truly a Sligo album, written and recorded in Sligo, inspired by the place, its people and its beauty.
Anna Houston: mandolin, cello, dulcitone & vocals
Steve Wickham: fiddle, guitar, mandolin & vocals
Oleg Ponomarev: fiddle
Ray Coen: guitar, fiddle & vocals
Felip Carbonell: guitar & vocals
Eddie Lee: double bass, flute & percussion
In 2005, four musicians got together for an informal session in one of Sligo’s most unique pubs, Shoot the Crows. Soon the Wednesday night session was one of the most famed in the area, with musical styles from Irish traditional to Latin bossa, and a lot more in between. Encouraged by the weekly rapturous response, the four musicians, harking from different musical and cultural backgrounds, agreed to join forces and take their unique styles to the next level.
Thus, NoCrows were born. Nine years later, the band has many successes and achievements under their belt, including performances at some of Europe’s top festivals, Glastonbury and Dranouter being notable examples.
Three of the four founding musicians still form the backbone of NoCrows, which has recently expanded with two additional members. Another founding member Steve Wickham still makes regular forays with NoCrows when he is not touring with his other band The Waterboys.
Sligo bassist Eddie Lee, Mallorcan guitarist Felip Carbonell and Swiss cellist/mandolinist Anna Houston provide the backbone of the band, joined in recent years by renowned Russian gypsy violinist Oleg Ponomarev, who also plays in Yurodny and Koshka, and a multitalented guitarist/fiddler, singer/songwriter living in Sligo, Ray Coen. With the addition of Ray to the lineup, comes several wonderful songs to go with the multicultural, eclectic mix of tunes the band is famed for.
Whether there are five or six onstage, the eclecticism and sheer joy of NoCrows music is always evident. NoCrows recorded its fourth CD “Waiting for the Tide” in early 2014, with an exciting mix of songs and brand new original tunes for release in May 2014.
NoCrows have four CDs:
At the Strand – Live (2006)
NoCrows on the Moon (2010)
Waiting for the Tide (2014
“Swing rarely felt this good”- Siobhan Long of The Irish Times.
NoCrows -Live at the Strand (2006)
“A beautifully wrought selection of instrumental music” – Joe Breen, Irish Times Magpie (2008)
OLDER PRESS RELEASES:
NoCrows New 2012 Line Up
Sligo-based eclectic music ensemble NoCrows have announced their festival and concert line up for 2012. Long time collaborator, Russian virtuoso violinist Oleg Ponomarev, who rose to fame in the 90’s with Russian Gypsy group Loyko, takes over the fiddle role from Steve Wickham who will be taking a sabbatical with his other group, The Waterboys, promoting their W.B. Yeats Project.
On rare occasions Steve will be guesting with NoCrows for some concerts. NoCrows will continue to play Steve’s compositions in his absence and hopefully he will be able to join them more regularly again in 2013.
Oleg and three of the founder members, Anna Houston, Felip Carbonell and Eddie Lee, have already toured successfully in Ireland and abroad, most lately in Switzerland in 2011.
PRESS RELEASE 2010
Sligo based group NoCrows are making waves in the folk and world music circuit this year with appearances at two major European festivals starting with Glastonbury’s acoustic stage last June, sharing the stage that day with such luminaries as Ray Davies (The Kinks), Fairport Convention, Jason Mraz and Hugh Cornwell (The Stranglers).
The band, which plays a unique blend of Irish traditional, classical and world music, is a quartet of Sligo musicians from very different backgrounds: Steve Wickham (of Waterboys fame) on violin and vocals, moved to Sligo from his native Dublin in the early nineties and has been an integral part of Sligo’s music scene ever since. Mallorcan maestro Felip Carbonell, on Spanish guitar and vocals, has resided in Strandhill for over 15 years, as has Swiss multi-instrumentalist Anna Houston, who is as comfortable playing cello in Sligo Baroque Orchestra as banjo and mandolin in local trad sessions. The quartet is completed by double bassist Eddie Lee, the band’s only Sligo native, who has been part of Sligo’s modern music scene, performing with rock, soul, folk, jazz, world and classical groups since 1981.
NoCrows repertoire is truly global as their music ranges from Portugal to Moldova, from Brittany to Russia, from Venezuela to Greece and beyond. Always on the lookout for a good tune, the band borrows from the classical oeuvre as it does from jazz, trad, folk and world music.
The group has two CDs on their own label Crows Records and Dervish’s Whirling Discs. Their live debut CD, Live at the Strand was recorded in late 2006 and released in 2007 to critical acclaim. (“Swing rarely felt this good”- Siobhan Long of The Irish Times). Last year’s Magpie, described by The Irish Times as “A beautifully wrought selection of instrumental music” caught the public imagination once more. “I think Magpie is one of the reasons why the band has started to gain international recognition”, says Eddie Lee, “it’s an album we are very proud of and contains original material written by each member. We have been mixing genres for a few years now, so, in a way, Magpie is NoCrows just beginning to discover our own voice.”
NoCrows, who played in Mallorca, Switzerland and Belgium in 2008, also played some of Europe’s biggest folk festivals this year, Dranouter Folk Festival and Dranouter aan Zee in Belgium, sharing stage with Buena Vista Social Club among others.
Irish, German, Belgian and Swiss dates follow in the autumn before the band records its next CD. In the meantime members of the band can be heard performing an acoustic session every Wednesday, in what they describe as the band’s’ “birthplace”, ‘Shoot the Crows’ pub in Sligo. The band’s two CDs, distributed by Claddagh records, are available in good record stores and online at Townsend Records (UK) and CD Baby (worldwide).
Magpie, Whirling Discs WHRL012
NoCrows is an eclectic quartet featuring violinist Steve Wickham, Anna Houston from Switzerland on cello and mandolin, Spanish guitarist (and one-time Dervish manager) Felip Carbonell and bassist Eddie Lee. Their second album Magpie features a gabhail of tunes from mainland and eastern European sources, original tunes and an Astor Piazzolla cover for good measure. The stylistic range extends to Klezmer and Gypsy with strongly baroque feeling creeping in on occasion. Des de Mallorca a L’Alguer veers from hoedown to more pronounced Sardinian strains while Sa Sibil.la careers between atmospheric semi-classical and German baroque styles. Houston’s title track recalls Irish roots while The Hot Bulgar sees them firming on Klezmer cylinders. The four musicians possess an emphatic understanding of each other’s musical nuances and the results are collective alchemy in action. Magpie is a gloriously freewheeling eclectic combination which, like NoCrows, defies classification
© John O’Regan, fRoots, July 2009
When I walked into Sligo folk pub Shoot the Crows early in January this year I thought I would get something different but nothing could have prepared me for the musical awakening that awaited me. I was totally bushwhacked by the untamed rhythms, musical ingenuity and, most of all, the sheer unfettered originality of resident group ‘No Crows’.
No Crows latest offering ‘Magpie’ bleeds with creative brilliance and this CD transports us to an almost Dickensian world of musical grandeur. There is astonishing musical range, depth and complexity to the No Crows oeuvre; I firmly believe that they are the most unique group of their kind in Ireland today. I find many shades and moods in No Crows from Ennio Morricone to classical composers and more cultish artists such as Nick Cave. No Crows admit that a lot of the tunes they play are in minor keys and the mood of some of these tunes is comparable to sombre pieces like John Williams’ Schindler’s List theme, one that I can imagine No Crows doing justice to.
‘Magpie’ and the music of No Crows in general might aptly be described as cinematic, for it conjures a veritable array of images; flickering lights and furtive shadows. This would be ideal film score material and its disposition reminds me of several great scores I have come across lately including Johnny Greenwood’s exceptional and unsettling work for There Will Be Blood and Nick Cave’s masterful scoring of The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford (especially the latter). At one of the Shoot the Crows sessions I attended, No Crows played a tune called ‘Five to Six/Exit Music For A Film’ and it features on the CD. The group semi–joked at the end of another piece that it was like ‘Entrance Music For A Film’ but I latched onto the observation and I personally would love to hear the music of No Crows in the context of a film soundtrack.
The four members of No Crows come from diverse musical traditions and pastiche their own distinctive talents into the fascinating melting pot that is ‘Magpie’. Steve Wickham of The Waterboys, as fine a fiddler as you will ever hear, has never sounded better and his wonderfully tempestuous fiddle playing is a pure treat. Mallorcan Felip Carbonell is a passionate performer who has stamped indelibly the imprint of his own native musical tradition on ‘Magpie’. Eddie Lee brings great scale to this work with his distinctive grooves on the double bass. Anna Houston is a gifted multi–instrumentalist whose playing on the cello and mandolin complements perfectly; she is a talented writer too as is evidenced by her titular track ‘Magpie’.
No Crows ‘Magpie’ album possesses a sometimes Hermannesque feel but there is no dearth of upbeat stuff either: ‘Mimi’s Chorinho’ composed by bassist Eddie Lee for his newborn daughter is a musical delight and a surefire toe–tapper.
‘Magpie’ traverses acres of musical tradition with everything here from a Gregorian chant (‘Sa Sibil–la’ which Felip learned from his aunt who sang it in Palma Cathedral) to a Greek traditional (‘Pernod’) and a rare Venezuelan tune (‘La Partida’). This is an array of international instrumentals to render the word eclectic virtually redundant. The group’s originals are gems too: in Anna Houston’s ‘Magpie’, the traditional roots she shares with Steve Wickham surface; Wickham’s opening salvo ‘Crowswing’ sees two “duelling fiddles” (his and Russian Oleg Ponomarev’s) go to war in a piece that is tantamount to “a Russian bandit tune.” The group benefits from the services of an interesting cast of guest musicians, notably Cathy Jordan whose elegiac composition ‘Claudia’ features as track 2.
I have heard the No Crows session in Shoot the Crows aptly described as “world class” by one observer, a description I thoroughly agree with, and the same holds true of this album. The album ‘Magpie’ would aptly be described as world music, for it represents a fascinating mosaic of musical traditions and influences. This is high concept stuff, full of texture and nuance that brings you on a mind–expanding musical journey across oceans and continents. Magpie’ is a handsomely mounted, richly textured album of oceanic depth and dazzling musical range; this is a collection of expertly arranged and lovingly recorded world music.
The stellar front cover artwork by Heidi Wickham, depicting two busy crows, deserves a special mention; this stark but striking painting reminds me of the moody paintings of Caravaggio and matches the mood of the music. A photo of the No Crows members donning masks in a forest on the CD sleeve adds further mystique to this inestimable group.
The music world looks very different since I discovered ‘No Crows’ – a group that constitute a university of musical excellence. Listening to the album ‘Magpie’ is like therapy; it is a haunting piece of work and its tunes are timeless and enduring while its creators are endlessly inventive and imaginative. Discovering No Crows lit up the early months of 2009 for me, a time that may otherwise have seemed like a dull and grey wasteland as has been the case for so many. The No Crows repertoire is a well of musical excellence that I know I will draw from again and again.
© Marty McCool, Music Reviews, Feb 2009
You would want an open mind to get full value from this vibrant second album by an ad hoc quartet formed out of regular sessions at the Sligo pub from which they took their name. Their music, as they say, “ranges from Irish traditional to classical and gypsy swing, as well as folk tunes from Finland, Moldova, Russia, Venezuela, Greece and beyond”.
In lesser hands, this would be a recipe for a well- meaning if ham-fisted (sic) turkey, but the hands here are pretty hot – not least violinist Steve Wickham of Waterboys fame. He is joined by exceptional Mallorcan guitarist Felip Carbonell, Anna Houston (cello and mandolin), double bassist Eddie Lee and a number of guests for what is a beautifully wrought selection of instrumental music. You can sense the pleasure they find in each other’s playing, but against that, their diversity leaves them short of a signature sound.
© Joe Breen, The Irish Times, August 2008
Live at the Strand,
Whirling Discs WHRL 010; 54 minutes; 2006
The Strand in question is a well-known bar in Strandhill, Co. Sligo, though this intriguing quartet began life at the equally renowned Shoot the Crows (hence in the county town). Live at the Strand is certainly an unusual album to review on these pages since by no means could it be described as an Irish traditional album and the foursome only partially draw upon Irish music as part of its vast swathe of influences. Indeed the term ‘world music’ might have been invented simply to describe the mélange of stimuli which galvanise No Crows, ranging from the Hot Club de Paris, to Portugal, Finland, Moldova, South America, Brittany, and the film work of Ennio Morricone. Indeed, there are only two Irish traditional tunes on the entire album, Continental Reel and The Mountain Reel (and both of these are given the idiosyncratic No Crows treatment), though a couple of others, Liz Carroll’s Reel Beatrice and Simon Jeffes’ Tune for a Found Harmonium, are pretty well known.
The band itself comprises long-time Dervish associate Felip Carbonell on guitar (often pulsating and exhibiting a multiplicity of chordal and picked effects), Anna Houston on cello and mandolin (the latter admirably plucked on Sweet Georgia Brown), the bedrock double bass of Eddie Lee and, finally, the band’s most famous member, fiddler Steve Wickham of The Waterboys.
Some of the music here is exquisite in its intensity – a gorgeously evocative Finnish Waltz or Makh Tsu Di Eygelekh, a dolorous tune composed by a Jewish inmate of a German concentration camp – but this is also a band that knows how to swing as the Anna Houston-composed Rock the Gondola amply exhibits. However, the standout track is the closing Dimecres de Mati/Finn’s Waltz (both tunes written by Felip), a tremendous tour de force which encompasses intricate Spanish guitar work, resonant bass and swirling fiddle and cello.
If No Crows lived in London, they’d be famous by now. Help put them on the musical map by purchasing this splendid album.
© Geoff Wallis, Irish Music Review, July 2007
At the Strand Live Whirling Discs ****
The melting pot that is No Crows borrows from the cosmopolitanism of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra and Loyko’s innovations (with just a tincture of the freewheeling of Django Reinhart) for their debut. Sligo-based, and populated by Mallorcan guitarist Felip Carbonell, cellist Anna Houston, double bassist Eddie Lee and Waterboys lynchpin Steve Wickham on fiddle, No Crows tread a jagged-edged and picaresque pathway through a repertoire pinched from across eastern and southern Europe, alighting on Sharon Shannon’s Portuguese adoptee, Corridinho, and making it their own. They achieve a remarkably orchestral sound on Szhôck, a slow waltz of puzzling parentage (either Romanian or Bulgarian). What could so easily have been magpie music for those with Attention Deficit Disorder is reined in tight by the quartet’s. Swing rarely felt this good. www.rmgchart.ie
© Siobhán Long, The Irish Times, Feb 2007
At The Strand: Live (Crows Records/Whirling Discs)
If you’ve been wondering whatever became of fiddler Steve Wickham since his raggle-taggle days with the Waterboys, wonder no more. He’s teamed up with three terrific Sligo-based musicians — guitarist Felip Carbonell, double bass player Eddie Lee, and Anna Houston on cello and mandolin — to form the band NoCrows.
They’ve just released their debut album, recorded live in September 2006 at the Strand Bar in Strandhill, Co. Sligo, and it’s a doozy. There are some lovely original tunes, notably Houston’s Rock The Gondola and the superb Carbonell compositions that close the CD, Dimecres De Mati/Finn’s Waltz.
© Sarah McQuaid, Evening Herald, Dec 2006