Later songs will see a woman enlist as a drummer boy, and a great wave of transatlantic travel setting off for the Americas. Arguably just as much of a historical throwback, in the context of the pandemic, is the opening of Teyr’s second album, in what would once have been the relatively prosaic setting of the arrivals and departure lounges at Shannon Airport. “Shannon Frisk Arrivals” opens as if in mid-conversation, with dabs of accordion that resolve into a busy reel, and segues smoothly into “Shannon Frisk Departures”.
The trio met on the London pub scene and made their first album, Far From the Tree, in 2016, with James Patrick Gavin on (chiefly) guitar, Dominic Henderson on various types of pipes, and Tommie Black-Roff on the accordion and other keyboard instruments. As an instrumental trio — Teyr means three in Cornish — they are nimble-fingered and energetic, the lead flowing seamlessly between them.
But Estren is more than a virtuoso instrumental album. It is themed around migration and identity — “Estren” is Cornish for stranger — and many of the songs have their genesis in moments of travel. The title track builds on a Victorian song about miners emigrating from Cornwall, with the band’s added nods to the slave trade and to refugees. Henderson’s “Gone is the Traveller” makes a plea for the importance of imagination and freedom.
Rehearsals started at a log cabin in Finland, and “Kuusilta” recalls an implacable moonlit night there with a wintry string quartet whose sound shimmers and fractures, more like Baltic minimalism than traditional folk. The album teems with friends, rather than strangers. The cellist Abel Selaocoe adds fishermen’s chants in Sesotho to “La Bestia” and “An Tros”, two songs about mythical sea beasts.
Ruth Corey, who plays synthesiser on many of the tracks, sings lead on “The Drummer”, an early 18th-century cross-dressing tale: the narrator boasts of how, disguised, she “lay with a thousand men and a maiden all the while,” her rhythmic skills propelling her to a position as sentry at the Tower of London before “a lady fell in love with me, and I told her I was a maid”, and the secret is rumbled. There is a long percussive passage from Tad Sargent on bodhran before a closing, pacifistic verse added by Black-Roff. Throughout, the guests widen Teyr’s landscape without loosening the band’s tight core.
‘Estren’ is released by Sleight of Hand