Villages – Dark Island
Photo by Mel Stone.
Cape Breton Island-based Celtic folk-rock quartet Villages released a new full-length album on Feb. 17, their second release, called Dark Island.
The 11 tracks are meant to give one a flavour of what it would mean to visit Cape Breton itself: “other worldly, euphoric, sobering, celebratory and reverent.”
As the band puts it, “The concept of Dark Island is metaphorical: When you’re at the end of your life, taking stock of it, what will you think about? No matter what you land on, good or bad, that island is yours – the dark surely
looms, but it also covers all you’ve ever experienced.”
Villages consists of Matt Ellis, Travis Ellis, Jon Pearo and Archie Rankin, and Dark Island was produced by Juno-award winning composer Joshua Van Tassel.
You might think that an emphasis on end-of-life thoughts would lead to a fairly depressing array of songs, but that is certainly not the case, as so much on offer here is upbeat and even heart-warming. There are words of perseverance in “Love Will Live On” and of joy in existence in “Easy When You Know How.”
In “Wearing Through the Pine,” the first cut, and my favourite, there is enough propulsive energy to get almost anyone through yet another day. And so it goes.
What is surely most interesting about the album is the blending of traditional Celtic music, with which band members are obviously so well versed, with more contemporary forms. Such blending may not be a new idea, but, with Dark Island, Villages offers their own particular take, featuring beautiful vocals and harmonies, thoughtful lyrics and an energy well-captured by the live-off-the-floor recording technique that provides a good sense of the excitement of a live performance.
As a life-long fan of creative uses of Celtic music in a more modern context, I particularly enjoyed this album. I feel like this is also one of those bands that one should see live to get the full experience, which I certainly intend to do.