When the creative juices are flowing, there’s no holding back the talented quartet that makes up the Celtic supergroup Còig. Hot on the heels of the group’s award-winning 2017 album “Rove” comes the brand-new release, “ASHLAR.” Brimming with new ideas, and lots of energy built up from their hundreds of international performances, the band figured, “Why wait?” They packed themselves into producer Dave Gunning’s Wee House Of Music studio in Nova Scotia during a brief break in touring, and everything fell into place perfectly.
As a matter of fact, that’s what “Ashlar” means, a perfect fit. Fiddler Chrissy Crowley explains: “There wasn’t a particular theme to the music, it just happened naturally, everything just flowed out of us. We noticed how quickly everything came together, so I was looking for a word that summed that up. “Ashlar” is a type of masonry where you’re refining and refining, and you wind up with these pristine, square blocks. The idea is that these blocks should be so uniform that they fit together perfectly. Like this album, where every track fit together perfectly.”
Ashlar flows from lively sets to tender traditional ballads to fabulous covers, everything Còig is known for, but there’s a difference this time too. The album features the most tune-writing, and more vocal tracks of any of their releases. That reflects all the ideas they keep storing up, and the growing confidence they feel in their own writing and singing.
“We’re singing a lot more on stage, and Rachel (Davis) and I are a lot more comfortable behind the vocal mic,” confirms Darren McMullen, the group’s multi-instrumentalist in charge of guitars, mandolin, banjo, bouzouki, whistles and pretty much everything else. “This album has way more of our own tunes on it,” adds Crowley. “We’re all writing more, despite how busy we are. That’s our relief from the amount of touring we do. It’s our mental break from it, going home and writing when we have the time. You’d think that’s when we would put all our instruments down and give ourselves a break, but instead we’re writing. It shows that we’re all passionate.”
Ashlar is full of surprises. From the Gordon Lightfoot ’60’s classic “Home From The Forest,” featuring vocals from Darren, and Rachel’s beautiful version of the Gaelic standard “O Luaidh.” There’s a set of jigs and reels called “Time & Tide,” inspired by Chrissy’s new-found passion for joining her brother as crew member on a Cape Breton fishing boat. That sums up the Còig energy. She’ll play a dance hall until midnight, grab a couple of hours sleep, and be at the harbour for 4 a.m. to fish for lobster, crab and tuna.
With a nod to the deep roots that inspired all the members to start playing Celtic music in the first place, piano player Jason Roach and Crowley put together “From The Old Tapes,” a set of Cape Breton classics from the likes of Winston “Scotty” Fitzgerald, John Morris Rankin and Brenda Stubbert. The reels and strathspeys were gleaned from rare homemade recordings in kitchens and dances, copied and passed around for decades. And Rachel and Darren combined for “Mystery Groove”, paying tribute Rachel’s grandfather, her first musical mentor and teacher, and Darren’s Uncle Charlie, who loaned him his first guitar, the one he’s still playing.
All this is fresh off the success of the album “Rove”, which won the group a 2018 East Coast Music Award, as well as was recognized with a JUNO Award and Canadian Folk Music Award nomination. With a combined total of over 30 group and solo awards and nominations, the four members of the band are well respected players in the Celtic world.
The group’s debut “Five”, released in June, 2014, earned them a 2014 Canadian Folk Music Award, Music Nova Scotia Award and the 2015 East Coast Music Award for Roots/Traditional Group Recording of the Year. That was followed by 2015’s “Carols”, already a yearly holiday favourite.
Còig’s music is a unique combination of influences that could only come from these four players. It’s traditional for sure, but it’s performed in a lot of non-traditional ways. “We all come from sort of a traditional background, but then we have different influences that we’re interested in,” explains fiddler and singer Rachel Davis. “Jason has a jazz degree, and listens to a lot of different music. Chrissy likes to dive into a lot of world music, Darren comes from a kind of Irish theme from playing around. More of the traditional Cape Breton music is really what I love, plus all the folk songs, so it’s an interesting mix.”
That leads to the other magic ingredient in Còig. It’s a band of fast friends, people that grew up together, played together, and knew each other way before they ever considered being in a band together.
The best in trad music, in a non-traditional way. That’s Còig.
Coìg will perform at the Delta Old Town Hall on Friday December 6 at 7:30PM, at the Manotick United Church on Saturday December 7 at 7:30PM and at St. Andrew’s United Church in Pakenham on Sunday December 8 at 3:00PM.