Ben McElroy ~ How I Learnt To Disengage From The Pack

The Slow Music Movement Label plunges into winter with an album suited to its theme.  The Irish folk of multi-instrumentalist Ben McElroy seems to have been snatched from time, composed for a harvest festival or a mild day in the midst of January.  The beguiling cover portrays a Kern Baby, constructed in 1901 to celebrate the fact that the harvest had been healthy enough to sustain the town over winter.  The observance weaves its way into the opener, “Store Away for Winter,” starting with fiddle and light strumming and leading to satisfied hums.

After this, McElroy pursues a number of different themes, wrapping them into a winter bow.  He says goodbye to a home as he nurses his ailing accordion into one last performance.  He expresses discontent with the powers that be for plunging the world into a spiritual winter.  And through slow, steady performances, he exudes a mingled wistfulness and resolve, howling lightly in the title track to underline the lone wolf motif.

How did he learn to disengage, and what does this mean?  The implication is not that McElroy has withdrawn from society, but from the current mood of anxiety and disenchantment.  Recalling the crackle of winter fire, the bounty of harvest, and the experiences of previous generations, he finds perspective, and reason for at least muted optimism.  While recording the leftover birds ~ those who have chosen not to fly south ~ he sees another species toughing it out.  On “From Time To Time,” silence and drone form the backdrop of a track that tilts toward spring.

“Wolves Dance” implies that McElroy has rejoined the pack, his fur grown glossier from his time of disengagement.  Energy regained, he is ready to frolic, while reserving the right to disengage again as needed.  Should the rest of the pack forget how to dance, he will try his best to teach them; but if they reject the dance, he he is strong enough to go it alone.  (Richard Allen)

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