When the creative juices are flowing, there’s no holding back the talented quartet that makes up the Celtic supergroup Còig. Hot on the heels of the group’s award-winning 2017 album Rove comes the brand-new release, ASHLAR. Brimming with new ideas, and lots of energy built up from their hundreds of international performances, the band figured, “Why wait?” They packed themselves into producer Dave Gunning’s Wee House Of Music studio in Nova Scotia during a brief break in touring, and everything fell into place perfectly.
As a matter of fact, that’s what Ashlar means, a perfect fit. Fiddler Chrissy Crowley explains: “There wasn't a particular theme to the music, it just happened naturally, everything just flowed out of us. We noticed how quickly everything came together, so I was looking for a word that summed that up. Ashlar is a type of masonry where you're refining and refining, and you wind up with these pristine, square blocks. The idea is that these blocks should be so uniform that they fit together perfectly. Like this album, where every track fit together perfectly.”
Ashlar flows from lively sets to tender traditional ballads to fabulous covers, everything Còig is known for, but there’s a difference this time too. The album features the most tune-writing, and more vocal tracks of any of their releases. That reflects all the ideas they keep storing up, and the growing confidence they feel in their own writing and singing.
“We're singing a lot more on stage, and Rachel (Davis) and I are a lot more comfortable behind the vocal mic,” confirms Darren McMullen, the group’s multi-instrumentalist in charge of guitars, mandolin, banjo, bouzouki, whistles and pretty much everything else. “This album has way more of our own tunes on it,” adds Crowley. “We're all writing more, despite how busy we are. That's our relief from the amount of touring we do. It's our mental break from it, going home and writing when we have the time. You'd think that's when we would put all our instruments down and give ourselves a break, but instead we're writing. It shows that we're all passionate.”
Ashlar is full of surprises. From the Gordon Lightfoot '60's classic "Home From The Forest," featuring vocals from Darren, and Rachel's beautiful version of the Gaelic standard “O Luaidh.” There’s a set of jigs and reels called “Time & Tide,” inspired by Chrissy’s new-found passion for joining her brother as crew member on a Cape Breton fishing boat. That sums up the Còig energy. She’ll play a dance hall until midnight, grab a couple of hours sleep, and be at the harbour for 4 a.m. to fish for lobster, crab and tuna.
With a nod to the deep roots that inspired all the members to start playing Celtic music in the first place, piano player Jason Roach and Crowley put together “From The Old Tapes,” a set of Cape Breton classics from the likes of Winston “Scotty” Fitzgerald, John Morris Rankin and Brenda Stubbert. The reels and strathspeys were gleaned from rare homemade recordings in kitchens and dances, copied and passed around for decades. And Rachel and Darren combined for “Mystery Groove”, paying tribute Rachel’s grandfather, her first musical mentor and teacher, and Darren’s Uncle Charlie, who loaned him his first guitar, the one he’s still playing.
All this is fresh off the success of the album Rove, which won the group a 2018 East Coast Music Award, as well as was recognized with a JUNO Award and Canadian Folk Music Award nomination. With a combined total of over 30 group and solo awards and nominations, the four members of the band are well respected players in the Celtic world.
The group’s debut Five, released in June, 2014, earned them a 2014 Canadian Folk Music Award, Music Nova Scotia Award and the 2015 East Coast Music Award for Roots/Traditional Group Recording of the Year. That was followed by 2015’s Carols, already a yearly holiday favourite.
Còig's music is a unique combination of influences that could only come from these four players. It's traditional for sure, but it's performed in a lot of non-traditional ways. "We all come from sort of a traditional background, but then we have different influences that we're interested in," explains fiddler and singer Rachel Davis. "Chrissy likes to dive into a lot of world music, Darren comes from a kind of Irish theme from playing around. More of the traditional Cape Breton music is really what I love, plus all the folk songs, so it's an interesting mix.”
That leads to the other magic ingredient in Còig. It’s a band of fast friends, people that grew up together, played together, and knew each other way before they ever considered being in a band together.
The best in trad music, in a non-traditional way. That's Còig.
AWARDS & NOMINATIONS
2019 Music Nova Scotia Traditional/Roots Recording of the Year nomination (Ashlar)
2018 East Coast Music Awards Roots Traditional Recording of the Year winner (Rove)
2018 JUNO Awards Traditional Roots Album of the Year nomination (Rove)
2017 Canadian Folk Music Awards Traditional Album of the Year nomination (Rove)
2017 Music Nova Scotia Traditional/Roots Recording of the Year nomination (Rove)
2015 East Coast Music Awards Roots Traditional Group Recording of the Year winner (Five)
2014 Canadian Folk Music Awards Traditional Album of the Year winner (Five)
2014 Music Nova Scotia Traditional/Roots Recording of the Year winner (Five)
"...every number is convincing and compellingly delivered. This group's ability to back songs on piano, fiddles, cello, guitars and more gives them enormous scope, and keeps the surprises coming throughout Rove. Slow reels and strathspeys, smooth fiddle and staccato banjo, plenty of their own material as well as the best of three centuries of tradition: there seems to be no end to Còig's talents, and I'm sure their story will continue well beyond this outstanding recording." - Alex Monaghan, FolkWorld
"—this is a walloping good set from these young lions of East Coast trad. There are five songs and seven instrumental tunes on Rove, all wonderfully engineered and mixed by Dave Gunning. I’m really happy to hear them increase the singing this time around. Rachel Davis and Darren McMullen both have fine voices, and McMullen’s take on Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill was a very pleasant surprise. The purity of Davis’s vocals shines on Down the Road. Instrumentally, few can match these folks. Jason Roach, who is at his thunderous best on the fast and furious numbers, gives fine accompaniment to the superb fiddling of Davis and Chrissy Crowley. McMullen plays guitar, cello, bouzouki, mandolin, mandola, banjo, whistle, and flute—his choices of instrument perfectly complementing the rest of the band on every track. There are plenty of reels, jigs, and strathspeys as you’d expect, as well as a surprise addition of a Dave Brubeck tune. That’s Three To Get Ready played by four, in a band called five in Gaelic. What’s not to like? - Tim Readman, Penguin Eggs
"Cape Breton Celtic ubergroup Còig realize their sonic potential with their third full-length release Rove, a twelve track treasure trove that will wash over you like the sea upon Nova Scotia shores. Featuring the fiery fiddling duo of Chrissy Crowley and Rachel Davis, the playful piano of Jason Roach, and the musical musings of multi-instrumentalist Darren McMullen, Rove takes listeners back to simpler, gentler times, when Saturday night ceilidhs brought communities together to sing, dance, drink and celebrate their rustic roots. Jigs, reels, ballads – and a brilliant cover of Peter Gabriel’s Solisbury Hill – showcase both the quartet’s strong chemistry, and the region’s rich musical history. Còig are the real deal, folks, and they just might inspire you to set sail for Atlantic Canada." - Celtic Life International
"It's an added bonus to have the singing among the jigs and reels, happily pushing the envelope sometimes, while then coming back to the solid, traditional Celtic base that makes them ideal ambassadors for the Cape Breton sound. Rachel Davis and Darren McMullen each take a couple of turns at the mic, with songs both old and new. McMullen has the biggest surprise, a subtle interpretation of Peter Gabriel's Solsbury Hill, with his mandolin leading the way and Davis providing a sweet harmony. Elsewhere, the fiddles of Davis and Chrissy Crowley fly, while Jason Roach provides the crucial middle, his piano bringing all the strings together. McMullen colours each set differently, providing guitars, cello, bouzouki, mandolin, mandola, banjo, whistle and flute. The reels, jigs and strathspey sets are imaginative, drawing in themes from local Cape Breton heroes, the group's originals, and wild cards such as Dave Brubeck's Three To Get Ready. There's a lot of thought, and a lot of joy in this collection." - Bob Mersereau, The Top 100 Canadian Singles
"— a delightful 12-cut collection of driving tunes and carefully selected songs, a nice mixture with something for everyone. It’s the combinations and arrangements that make things distinctively Còig, as tunes change timing and instrumentation in surprising ways, weaving in, out and around each other to create something greater than the sum of its musical parts. This is a terrific recording and you won’t go wrong by having it in your collection." - Dan MacDonald, Cape Breton Post
"Còig is one of those staples for Atlantic Canada’s traditional music. With all the fiddle and mandolin (and piano, guitar, banjo, viola, bouzouki, whistles and about a dozen more instruments), they’re a mainstay in the genre. They’ve mastered many a jig, and if you haven’t already seen them perform, chances are you will sometime." - www.theeastmag.com
“This is a blast from the past, featuring all your favourite hits of the 18th century.” The crowd clearly loved all of it, clapping and stomping along. The band would take turns on some of the songs to come to the front of the stage to jig. They got a standing ovation twice, and came back out for a triumphant encore. If you ever get the chance to hear Còig live – GO! And bring your dancing shoes. My feet still move every time I hear one of their songs (and up to half an hour afterwards). Until then, check out their CD – it’s a joy." - Leilah Thiel, BucketListMusicReviews
"Trust me, there was no shortage of powerful workouts that held true to the raucous music that has rattled the roofs of kitchens in the East Coast for generations. You don’t sweep award nominations by being slackers, and there was not a single instrument lagging on that stage over the course of their dynamic showcase. Over two sets, Còig allowed for far too many highlights to isolate any single one in particular, but a Gaelic singalong proved pretty popular with the audience members. Darren McMullen switched frequently from banjo to bouzouki, Rachel Davis and Chrissy Crowley were a blur of seated step-dancing and fiery fiddles. I never did get to see the whites of Jason Roach’s eyes at any point during the show, but with the intensity and speed he was banging on the white AND black keys of his piano, the sound folks had to quickly tape his keyboard to the stage, lest it inadvertently join the nervous fans in the front row." - Dan St.Yves, The Calgary Herald
"A bit of French, a bit of Irish, a wee dram of Gaelic and a full helping of Cape Breton Scotch: this is a mighty powerful fiddle cocktail from Còig." - Alex Monaghan, FolkWorld
"Sometimes I get tired of wading knee-deep through reindeer poop looking for the genuine Christmas music treasures. But, when you find those sparkly diamonds, it's suddenly all worthwhile. "Carols" by Còig is just such a gem. And, true enough, as it was released last year, I should have found it then (though, in my defense, news from Canada seems to come with a built-in time delay). "Carols" is exceptional, from start to finish. And, sure, it's overall a Celtic set, but the band brings a multitude of influences to the music which not only keeps the whole thing sounding fresh and original, but should also draw in some folks more partial to Folk, Classical, Contemporary Pop, and there's even a little bit of Swing. The musicianship and vocals are perfect, there's a nice balance of instrumental and vocal pieces and "Carols" is a robust 57.5 minutes long (no skimpy wish sandwich here). Hard to pick favorites, since its all so good, but the opener--"Carol Of The Celts"--grabbed me when Còig shifted into high gear about 2 minutes in. And if "Swingle Jingle Bells" doesn't put a smile on your face, I think there might be something wrong with you. Just sayin'." - stubbyschristmas.com