It’s often easy to forget how wild Ireland still is. We’re all cozied up in our lovely towns and cities, settlements that have stood for centuries. But I noted on trip that took me out of Derry into the country side recently how quickly civilisation melted away into raw hills, untamed forest and briar, brush and boscage. Even during the high point of the day, shadows lurk and edges sharpen, and the further you venture, the further you fall back into the horizons of folklore. It’s easy to see how our ancestors would look at the peaks and glens of Ireland and see magic in the misery. With this in mind, the work of Dani Larkin becomes all the more clear.
A singer-songwriter from the Armagh-Monaghan border, an area once marked with ‘here there be monsters’, Larkin sings like you were gathered around a turf fire centuries ago. Your only protection from the beasts of the night, your light and your companion. There is comfort to be found, but only in it’s combat against the dark.
It’s eerie how transportable this album is, particularly when the subject matter is taken into account – much like the doom-drone folk of contemporaries Lankum, Larkin sees that the troubles of Ireland two/three hundred years ago as the troubles of Ireland today. Instances of fascism, folklore, reproductive rights and motherhood all play into her songwriting on her debut album ‘Notes For A Maiden Warrior‘. And like Lankum, she employs traditional, ancient sounding folk music to tell this modern story. Concepts of story telling as community, women, goddesses, spirits and violence are intrinsically connected to the Irish identity for her, and Larkin bears witness to these on our behalf.
The role of a woman in a traditional and modern Ireland is called into question as Larkin ponders her ability to create change on tracks like ‘Love Part Three‘ with its pounding acoustic spirit, and we feel her anger at the lack of progress on the likes of ‘Bloodthirsty‘ and ‘The Red (Macca’s Return)‘. Here, we see Larkin’s stunning O’Connor-esque vocals brought to the forefront, her sweetest balm and fiercest weapon. It difficult to ignore her when the album sounds so striking, and thats largely down to Dani’s voice. A swirling LP that interweaves alternative folk songwriting with Irish traditional arrangements, ‘Notes…’ is earmarked by Larkin’s fingerprints in a way that feels both personal and universal. There are stories and constructs here that ring introspectively but can be applied to the people in your life also – a sure sign of Larkin’s progress as a songwriter.
With the album split almost entirely down the middle, the former tackling fairytale and the latter in ‘love and human experience’. The noticeable shift in production and composition after track five is telling, as Larkin begins to join the dots she perceived in ‘The Mother Within’. More than anything, ‘Notes…’ feels like a journey of the mind rather that the foot. Equal parts visual and audio, Larkin’s retelling of motifs struck a chord with me in a primal, pagan way. As was her intention, I would imagine. With a sound as wild and as untamed as her home, ‘Notes For A Maiden Warrior’ demands nothing and gives everything, presenting a tapestry of history for you to interpret in your own time. A fantastic debut for the NI songwriter, and one that will surely stand the test of time as long as her stories.