“When I was a single girl
Used to go to the stores to buy
And now that I’m a married girl
Just rock that cradle and cry”
So it goes, the somber opening lyrical piece on Bùmarang’s Echo Land, the Montreal-based Celtic trio’s debut album. But both their name, Bùmarang – the Scots Gaelic word meaning boomerang – and the album title, Echo Land, allude to a reflection, a return and a resolution to find answers in the past.
The trio: David Gossage, Kate Bevan-Baker and Sarah Pagé, have individually toured Canada and beyond in their own ensembles including Orealis, The Barr Brothers, Tree Talk and Land of Kush. They’ve performed with the likes of Patrick Watson, Hey Rosetta!, Kid Koala, Michael Bublé, Lhasa de Sela and Cirque du Soleil. So when the three virtuosic players first combined on stage in 2015, bringing their diverse influences of classical, jazz, African, and Indian music together with a love and appreciation for Irish and Scottish Celtic music and English and Appalachian folk songs, the results were unique and innovative takes on what was once old.
“There’s something dreamlike about traditional music. The fact that people were playing something similar here in the past,” says David Gossage, described by music critic Mark Lepage as “Montreal’s secret weapon”, who plays flute, guitar and whistles. “Echo Land is a reference to reverberations from the past; that evoke a feeling of timelessness.”
Those reverberations stand prominently as the album opens on the instrumental piece “Song of Books”. Though there are lyrics for the piece, lamentably written by the poet and musician Tomás Rua Ó Súilleabháin (1785–1848), who lost his life’s work and library in a ship wreck, Bùmarang choose to focus on the melody of the traditional Irish air “Cuan Bhéal Inse” or “Valentia Harbor”.
The mood is revived by the original composition “Weasel”, another instrumental, this time written in an unusual meter, before introducing the “Single Girl” lamenting her lost freedom. The song was collected by Cecil Sharp in a book of 274 English folk songs from the Southern Appalachians, and here it is accompanied by Moogs and guitars played by Leif Vollebekk.
“It appeals to me because the lyrics and situation are so timeless,” says Sarah Pagé, who sings, plays harp (with a bass pick-up of her own design and an array of carefully considered amps, fans, bows and pedals), harmonium and bouzouki. “I can look back to my mother, grandmothers, great-grandmothers and feel this song will resonate with any of them and almost anywhere in the world.”
At the end of the song, the essence of the band and the album is perhaps revealed – the lyrics are flipped around – “you’ll never wish you were a single girl, like me”. We are no longer sure if the message is despairing, solace seeking or imparting advice. The meaning is up to us.
“Perry Merry” follows, a riddling song from 1430s Britain, which ends with a couple of fiddle tunes, before the “Mullingar Lea Set” celebrates the coming of Spring with an Irish waltz and two intensifying reels.
“We’re trying to span huge distances over generations, holding onto melodies that become half heard echoes as they ripple across the sea.” says Kate Bevan-Baker, the fiddle player and other vocalist, that holds a PhD in ethnomusicology specializing in Irish Music on PEI. “Traditional melodies are imbibed with new meaning every time someone picks one up and plays it in their own voice, adds their life, their time to the song. And yet some of them remain relatively unchanged and manage to whisper something, triggering vague memories.”
In “The Song of the Rose” rushed love is likened to the rose that blooms before the frosts have left; “She weeps, and weeps away her petals red.”
The band’s first show was not so rushed. It was at a music festival in the Quebec town of Shigawake, a fourteen hour drive from their Montreal homes. That commute inspired the non-traditional, hypnotic harp and improvised fiddle piece “The Road to Shigawake”. “Cradle Song” is next, again with lyrics that leave an uncertainty of intent, emphasized by the ethereal playing, with shimmers of hope shining through.
Joy is echoed in the next set of three tunes, with Gossage’s whistle taking centre stage, culminating in an energizing reel. An old English song “Searching for Lambs”, carefully places the dreamlike nature of love bounding across the hills and dales in an interpretation in mixolydian mode, before seamlessly finding clarity in the celebratory piece “Jock Brown’s 70th”.
It’s an epic way to end a journey that may never have been completed. After all, the band first started recording in 2016, in a session they now describe as “cursed.”
“We had such bad weather my car was stuck in ice and I couldn’t get my harp to the studio,” says Pagé. “And then Dave’s flute broke! We basically had to track the whole band knowing we’d have to replace all the parts except for Kate’s later on.” The project sat on hold for a couple of years, until they started working with co-producer and mixer Vid Cousins. “He salvaged everything he could from that first session, and handled the rest of our songs and sounds with great care and sensitivity, undertaking the enormous task of editing all our tracks.”
With the journey now complete, musically flying us over the realms of Celtic music, travelling the ages and back again, we’re reminded how the twists and turns of life switchback us to new perspectives. Bùmarang share loves: born, lost, regretted and celebrated, and bring us out of mists of uncertainty to a clarity of our place within this time. They succeed in making new what is old, and they nourish our souls with their entirely modern celebration of tradition.
“How gloriously the sun does shine,
How pleasant is the air.
I’d rather rest on true love’s breast
Than any other where.”
1. Song of Books [2:34]
2. Weasel [4:54]
3. Single Girl [5:18]
4. Perry Merry [5:24]
5. Mullingar Lea Set [6:20]
6. Song of the Rose [4:21]
7. Road to Shigawake [5:26]
8. Cradle Song [4:56]
9. Shot of Jamie [5:05]
10. Searching for Lambs [3:15]
11. Jock Brown’s 70th [4:29]