Features & RetrospectivesReviews

Feature: The Driftwood Manor, three 2010 releases

With five releases in two years to their name, and count­ing, The Drift­wood Manor are one of Ire­land’s most pro­lific artists in the exper­i­mental folk scene. The band is centered around singer, song­writer, and gui­tar­ist Eddie Keenan, who enlists a cast of sup­port­ing musi­cians that var­ies with each release. The first two releases, A Gath­er­ing and Every Light Goes Out Even­tu­ally, were covered sep­ar­ately on Even­ing of Light, but 2010’s releases have fol­lowed each other so quickly that a one-piece fea­ture might suit these albums just as well as three sep­ar­ate reviews.

The cru­cial ques­tion when a band puts out three releases in one year is whether it’s all any good. Thank­fully, the answer so far for The Drift­wood Manor is a simple resound­ing yes. Judging from the nearly twenty tracks on these offer­ings, the well of songs has not run dry in the least, and I expect we can look for­ward to more inter­est­ing mater­ial in the near future.

As a brief intro­duc­tion, let me return to A Gath­er­ing, the first album, which held nine tracks clock­ing in at about 30 minutes. That album had a slightly poppy folk sound, some rock influ­ences, but also an exper­i­mental touch to it and a hefty dose of mel­an­choly, on the whole quite access­ible as a mod­ern folk album. The second release, though, 2009’s EP Every Light Goes Out Even­tu­ally, was a pro­foundly sad duo of long man­tra-like sound­scapes, med­it­at­ing on death and loss, capped by the brief and beau­ti­ful vocal end­ing of “Before it Is Time”. With this release, which came as a pleas­ant sur­prise to me, Keenan and his band showed that they had at least one leg firmly rooted in the exper­i­mental music world.

The Same Fig­ure, Leav­ing

This delight­ful diversity con­tin­ues with this year’s albums, start­ing with the second full-length The Same Fig­ure, Leav­ing, released in hand­made pack­aging on French label Rur­al­faune. The album marks a return to the folk songs of the first one, though with slightly less rock/pop lean­ings. A bit of an Amer­ic­ana sound is thrown into the mix as well, some­thing which suits the gen­eral sound of the band admir­ably. The focus is once more of Keen­an’s voice and gui­tar, with excel­lent sup­port by Neil Fitz­gib­bon on fiddle and Bean Dolan on double bass, among oth­ers. “A Coat Against the Winter”, the opener, is a won­der­ful example of the band’s intro­spect­ive and mel­an­cholic sound and lyr­ical lean­ings:

We can have another whis­key / Before we step into the out­side / As a coat against the winter / Like a word against the silence”

Another high­light is the swinging man­dolin-based “The Last­ing Final Hurt”, fea­tur­ing per­fect sup­port work from Fitz­gib­bon’s fiddle and Audrey Ryan on back­ing vocals. A final men­tion goes to the clos­ing and title track, a won­der­ful ode to calm accept­ance, where most if not all of the play­ers on this album come together, par­tic­u­larly in the layered chor­uses of Keenan, Anne Marie Hynes, and for this one also Dave Colo­han.


Holy Ghost

We move on to Holy Ghost, the second EP, released as part of the 3″ series by Rus­ted Rail. This time around we get six tracks, pretty much in the same style as The Same Fig­ure, Leav­ing, but all with a power of their own. Therein lies the strength of Keen­an’s song­writ­ing: the abil­ity to come up with quite a num­ber of songs in a coher­ent style that man­age to be good enough in their own right to com­mand the listen­er’s atten­tion. Par­tic­u­lar atten­tion must go to the superb “Bury Me Alive”, a song with a strong dose of bal­lad and spir­itual influ­ence, sound­ing like it could come straight from some coun­tryside church in the Amer­ican (or Irish?) out­back. But really, all the other stracks are simply strong as well; Holy Ghost is solid until the end.

Found Pho­to­graphs of Ancest­ors

The final release is the EP Found Pho­to­graphs of Ancest­ors, released in August 2010 by Apol­lo­laan Record­ings. This hand­made affair, lim­ited to 50 cop­ies, is a sequel to Every Light Goes Out Even­tu­ally, again com­bin­ing drones, folk and some east­ern musical influ­ences. Keenan works with Colo­han as a duo here, both very skilled by now in cre­at­ing cap­tiv­at­ing exper­i­mental sound­scapes. Appar­ently, these EPs are going to form a tri­logy, with the third instal­ment still upcom­ing. I must say I found the first part just a tad more involving than this one, but this is still a fine piece of folky drone, and I eagerly await the final part of the tri­logy.

So far, 2010 has brought us three fine releases from this Irish group, so I sin­cerely recom­mend them for any­one who is inter­ested in altern­at­ive and exper­i­mental folk. Some of these might be sold out by now, as they’ve appeared in lim­ited edi­tions, but they might be avail­able through mail­orders still.