NUA comes out of Toronto, Canada, but their sound is a blend of Irish and Scottish influences- complete with bodhrán- and features both traditional and original, and they do it exquisitely. While the group might be new and debuting with their album, Bold, the constituent members are award-winners in their own right already. McCauley especially has been highlighted because of his percussion skills, but all three are solid artists who work together to create a stunning tapestry out of plain linen. I have to admit, I have an affinity to the bodhrán that might bias my opinion, but the gestalt of NUA as a traditionally styled group innovating for today’s listeners puts them on par with Carolina Chocolate Drops. The use by NUA of non-standard time signatures lends an almost jazz-like quality to some of their songs.
Intro begins with an electric-sounding reverb “buzz” on top of strings, adding in the full complement of instruments as the piece swells and blossoms into the next song, Fizzbuzz. Fizzbuzz takes off and continues the energetic level at a fairly steady pace with some quieter and more traditional moments as well. Coming to a whole new strain of speed and bordering on frantic, The Draw is a great example of a reeling, obviously Celtic influenced piece. Ecklunds takes over with a milder tempo and steps and skips across your brain on a cold winter day as a wonderful reminder that things have to warm up eventually. After a brief break Happy Cammy Drammy Birthday takes a more modern start before returning to NUA’s Celtic roots with bodhrán at the forefront right alongside the fiddle, and ends back on a modern note with some world fusion sounds to stick in your head. Driving Song has a jaunty feel like a drive on a country road at a fast pace, but interspersed are a couple of spots that border on pastoral, bringing to mind the “driving” of cattle from one place to another; the dual themes and dual meanings complement each other nicely. Following on the heels of Driving Song is The Thistle and The Daffodil, a distinctly Celtic tune calling to mind Scotland (signified by the thistle) and Wales (with the daffodil). This mixing of two strains of Celtic music ends abruptly as The Dark Road begins with some electronica additions and a less joyful, at times almost ominous, sounds punctuated by eerie sound effects. The overall tune is a standout in this album, for all the right reasons. The beginning of Rich With Heart reminds me of the Shaker tune, ‘Tis a Gift to Be Simple, but I can’t really place why. Whatever the reason, it’s a solid ground to build the fast-paced reel that ensues about halfway through. Peter and Michelles is a slower tune with wide range and good dynamics. Taking nearly a 180 turn, Flying CDs begins slow and somberly before turning up the speed and ticking away at a fast clip toward a robust theme with staccato notes tripping over each other, and finally gaining their footing to absolutely knock the last movement out of the ballpark. Martyn’s Yellow Tea Pot is a gentle, welcoming piece that feels like coming home to a warm country cottage right as the kettle begins to whistle; I couldn’t help but think of Bilbo Baggins with this one, and relax into a big smile. After another quick left turn, The Hijack sets a faster pace and a minor key for a wry few moments and some Pink Panther-esque stalking and hiding, before rushing off to close the album with a bang. Outro is a modern-meets-old-world jumble that seems played in reverse (appropriately enough).
The big feelings that this album brings together are as varied as they are well-done- a solid basis underpinning brand new themes and sounds are the unifying components of a skilled artwork that needs to be hear to be believed, that leaves only one question in my mind: Why are you still reading this when you could be listening to what I’m talking about?
Personnel: James M Law (fiddle), Graeme McGillivray (guitar), Jacob McCauley (bodhrán).
Tracks: Intro, Fizzbuzz, The Draw, Ecklunds, Happy Cammy Drammy Birthday, Driving Song, The Thistle and the Daffodil, The Dark Road, Rich With Heart, Peter and Michelles, Flying CDs, Martyn’s Yellow Tea Pot, The Hijack, Outro