As anyone who knows me will confirm, I have always loved Gaelic folk music, and rarely enjoyed mainstream pop music. However, Beoga’s new mini-album ‘Carousel’, which is their latest foray into the ever growing world of trad-pop fusion, has made me think twice. Their use of sythns, loops, sequencers, and a plethora of other studio effects on top of the traditional accordion, fiddle, guitar, keys and bodhran combination is a superb and expertly-handled development of the folk tradition.
Beoga, a band best known for their collaboration with Ed Sheeran on the internationally famous ‘Galway Girl’ and ‘Nancy Mulligan’, have been performing and writing traditional Irish folk music since their establishment in 2002, and their first album ‘A Lovely Madness’ in 2004 - always pushing the boundaries of what trad-folk can accomplish. Since the popularity of the trad-pop fusion was unanimously proven by ‘Galway Girl’ being streamed over a billion times, and with their new found contacts in the pop world, Beoga wrote the brand new mini album, Carousel, to prove that they can go bigger and better than anyone else in the folk-pop scene.
Having enjoyed Beoga’s somewhat more traditional albums in the past, I was initially hesitant about Carousel, but with hooks as catchy as ‘In A Rocket’, I find myself unapologetically toe tapping along to this fascinatingly compelling collection of songs.
The 7 track album is centred around collaborations with other artists, including Lissie, Ryan McMullan and Devin Dawson. In fact, there are even bigger names involved behind the scenes of this album, with James Bay co-writing ‘In a Rocket’, and Sheeran penning the lyrics for ‘Mathew’s Daughter’ about his wife Cherry. The album was produced by the English songwriter and record producer Jonny Coffer, who is known for having written and produced for artists and groups such as Rita Ora, Beyoncé, Fall Out Boy and many others, as well as being nominated for a Grammy.
Categorising this album as simply trad-pop is really doing the musicians a disservice. Beoga explore a number of different styles to fuse with folk such as western country pop in ‘In a Rocket’, and the EDM/Dubstep style influences that are clear in the atmospheric ‘We’re Blood’. To accomplish all this while retaining the characteristic rhythms and modal melodies of traditional Irish folk is a delicate balancing act, but it’s clear Beoga have perfected the art, pleasing even a self-professed folk purist such as myself. My personal favourite track has to be ‘Carousel’ itself. The track begins with with a pop-style four chord riff on piano, before a percussive backbeat is added along with the accordion melody. Mid way through the song a deliciously funky guitar riff is added, and more pop style vocalised melodies are introduced, with subtle electronic sounds being snuck in throughout the piece.
I streamed the album from Quobuz via Roon, through a Parasound DAC and Ming Da Dynasty Octet. The combination of the beautifully open Parasound and the natural, engaging valve sound created a remarkably enjoyable listening experience. I noticed it particularly highlighted the woody tones of the fiddle in the background and acoustic bass thump of the Bodhran which were lost when listening via Spotify on a pair of mainstream headphones that pop music is generally consumed through.
In an amusingly apt comparison, I suppose this album is akin to the electrification of classic cars: they have taken a slowly disappearing genre and modernised it to suit the current generation of listeners. To some this might seem disrespectful to the original music, but to others it demonstrates a willingness to adapt and keep folk music alive for generations to come.