As if they were following some musical ley line, The Orphan Brigade – Neilson Hubbard, Ben Glover and Joshua Britt- have, since their formation, recorded in the field in various locations. They inhabit a location, drink in the associated history and legends and transform these into singular songs, leaving their mark and adding to the legend. To date they have dwelled in a supposedly haunted civil war plantation house for their first album, Soundtrack To A Ghost Story (and taking their name from the Confederate troops stationed there) and gone all troglodyte in ancient caves situated under a small Italian town on Heart Of The Cave. There was also a slight detour when Hubbard and Britt joined Dean Owens and Audrey Spillman to record Buffalo Blood in the native American heartlands of New Mexico.
To The Edge Of The World finds this intrepid trio perched on the briny coastline of Antrim in Northern Ireland, Glover’s homeland. As is their wont, they burrowed into the local scene, the rugged locations, the stories told over the years and set down to writing their impressions before recording the album in a 15th century church. As with the previous albums they haul in collaborators although here, there are fewer celebrities. Aside from John Prine and The Henry Girls, they turn to local musicians and even a primary school choir to garland their songs, giving the album a firm sense of its birth land with Hibernian undertones pulsing throughout The Brigade’s take on this mystic Irish coastland.
They set the scene immediately as a brief snatch of an Uilleann pipe tune wafts in from the mist before a clattering Bo Diddley beat leads into the driving Madman’s Window. A glorious amalgamation of rootsy American thrust and skirling Irish pipes, Glover recounts the tale of an Irish youth who remained at the location of his sweetheart’s drowning for the rest of his life. The song was written at the actual location where this supposed tale occurred and several other songs on the album are tied into stories and places they visited. Under the Chestnut Tree sprang into life as the trio visited The Armada Tree, the burial place of a Spanish nobleman, drowned as the doomed Spanish Armada came to grief in the Irish coastline as they fled after defeat. Again, the band deliver a rousing blend of bustling mandolin driven Americana with a whiff of Celtic mysticism and it’s this winning combination which gives the album much of its drive. The title song is a muscular and pulsating modern folk rock song with echoes of Nick Cave while Banshee swings with a junkyard beat as if Tom Waits were wandering through an Irish graveyard. Fairhead’s Daughter, inspired by a location used in Game of Thrones, thrashes around somewhat excellently with big Townsend like guitar bashing.
While these rambunctious offerings are quite exhilarating, there’s a welter of songs here which, while just as stirring, cleave more to a folk idiom. Captain’s Song (Sorley Boy) finds John Prine adding his voice to a dirge like shanty and Isabella is blessed with some wondrous harmony singing as they bring the Appalachians to Ireland. On a similar note, St. Patrick On Slemish Mountain rings out an with old time Americana sound but it’s the closing song, Mind The Road, which really hammers home the band’s affiliation to the Celtic muses they encountered on this road trip. It’s a breathy and whispered confection of fluttering flute over a bustling double bass with rippling guitars and mandolin dipping in and out. It’s reminiscent of Van Morrison’s glorious Veedon Fleece and as such, sets the seal on The Orphan Brigade’s immersion into the myths and legends of this rugged and untamed historic coastline.