Surprise time for anyone more accustomed to Iarla Ó Lionáird in his guise as singer for dance outfit Afro-Celt Sound System. With its acoustic instruments, fresh atmospherics and soaring vocals, Invisible Fields is Ó Lionáird going back to his roots, The album is luminous where the Afro-Celts were energetic; contemplative where the others were of the moment.
It’s also a highly emotional record, with a vocal style that has an ecstatic abandon that is comparable to a devotional singer like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. The album’s ten songs, many at their core traditional ones, are sung mostly in Gaelic, but the language is little bar to understanding. Ó Lionáird’s music seem connected to his own landscapes: ‘Oison’s Dream’ has a swarming electronic background, as if of bees; a lone harmonium takes ‘I’m Weary of Lying Alone’ to the edges of land and elsewhere birdsong is never far away.
There is no time in Invisible Fields. Its basis in sean nos – that is traditional, unaccompanied Gaelic song – is plain, but ÓLionáird’s orchestrations are utterly contemporary. He is aided in this masterwork by an intimate band of musicians. Ken McHugh and Kieran Lynch help out on guitars and unobtrusive treatments, while Tibetan singer Yungchen Llamo adds a spacious timbre to ‘Aurora’ and composer Gavin Bryars some deeply felt strings to ‘Tuirmh Mhic Fhinin Dhuibh’. Listen closely and repeatedly for further rewards. It’s that kind of album.