Caught by the River

Landless – Bleaching Bones

Cally Callomon | 16th July 2018

Cally Callomon gets his ears around ‘Bleaching Bones’, the debut album from four-part harmony group Landless.

Voices; voices sing words, they are but prows on a ship, the figurehead, they can stop you in your tracks, or they can send you off course forever. If you don’t like the voice it ends there; shut out forever.

Landless have four of them, four voices and little else. Alarmingly they side-stepped the charming but naïve debut album, they disregarded the compulsory tricky second one, they appear to have started on the accomplished third, and, like the Everly Brothers, they appear to have been singing together all of their short lives.

It ought to be enough just to have that one voice – the June Tabor, Sandy Denny, the Anne Briggs – but when ‘Buried In Kilkenny’ hits, and you hear the contralto of Meabh Meirand, you know you are in special measures. Beautiful though all four are, utterly reliant on each other, with Meirand it’s like hearing Robert Plant for the first time; a singular siren call that would make Tim Buckley blush. Just like when a nameless David Crosby fired off ‘I’d Swear There Was Somebody Here’, Landless go one better with the wordless ‘Caoin I’ – the show-stopper that ends their album.

Away with you instruments, away with you embellishments, this beautifully produced collection comes to you direct. The only rhythm track is the sound of your own heart, and it thumps and thumps throughout.

Their utter laziness, the recalcitrant deliberate and patient need not to rush, their confident pace: ‘All Around the Loney-O’ takes its time to address the listener with a patience and integrity that is usually acquired only with years of experience. As we lean in to listen carefully, the need becomes ours, not theirs.

In their harmony there is friction aplenty, a steady caustic ambition, the integrity, the cohesion, has not been heard since siblings like The Unthanks gave us ‘The Bairns’ or since Don and Phil sang ’T For Texas’. Borders are crossed; American, Irish and  Scottish, with Burns’ ‘Lassie Lie Near Me’ – a powerful endearing song of love topped only by their take on Liam Weldon’s ‘Via Extasia’:

And were I, then, a single seed of / All the millions in the field / You, a gentle raindrop from the sky / And as you fall upon my breast and / Waken me from my long rest / in that moment by the old gods blessed / Oh you and I, truly one.

A home-spun, home-made debut from Dublin and Belfast, an utter gem waiting to be treasured.


Bleaching Bones is out now via Humble Serpent. You can listen on Spotify here.