Tag Archives: Irish

Folk/bluegrass: album review – Damien O’Kane & Ron Block ‘Banjophonics’

I know the groans that the mention of the word banjo elicits in both folk circles and the wider music world have long been a bit of a cliché. But as a Brit, I must confess that my first thought at mention of the word is usually visions of Jim Royle whipping out his banjo and rattling off some tired old music hall song in episodes of the Royle Family.

It’s not like that elsewhere, of course, and four years ago, Irish musician Damien O’Kane and California-based Ron Block pulled off the seemingly impossible, with their debut album Banjophony attracting rave reviews and suddenly making the banjo cool – even in Britain.

Now the pair have done it again with a brand-new, thirteen-track album, Banjophonics, and I must say I love it!

Damien O’Kane: The title reflects the sound we think we make – it’s a definition of our music. It’s a joyous, life-affirming joust, barely pausing for breath – fast, frenetic fireworks punctuated by more reflective melodies.”

What the collaboration does so successfully, of course, is fuse two distinct banjo traditions into one joyful, transatlantic, musical melting pot: courtesy of the four-string Irish tenor banjo and the five-string American bluegrass banjo.

A celebrated performer on the Irish music scene, O’Kane has two successful solo albums behind him and is a much in-demand musician while Block is rightly celebrated for his role as part of Alison Krauss & Union Station.

Comprising eleven tunes and two songs, Banjophonics is an exhilarating mix that spans a whole range of tempos, influences and moods. There’s a great line-up of guests on the album, too, including Siera Hull, Barry Bales, Jay Bellerose from the US, along with Steven Byrnes, Duncan Lyall, Josh Clark, Michael McGoldrick and David Kosky from this side of the Atlantic. Kate Rusby provides stunning backing vocals on one track, ‘Woman Of No Place’, a tribute to Irish traveller and banjo player, Margaret Barry.

Whether you come at it as a lover of the Irish folk tradition or the American bluegrass tradition or a bit of both, you will find plenty to love in this album.

Released: 1st July 2022

https://damienokane.co.uk/band/

This week’s featured artist: Gaelic multi-instrumentalist Tina Jordan Rees

Originally from Lancashire but having spent time living in both Ireland and Scotland, Tina Jordan Rees is extremely well-versed in the musical traditions of each. A multi-instrumentalist, she plays flute, whistle and piano as well as being a qualified Irish dance teacher. Having released several albums of Irish dance music, Beatha represents her first album of flute and whistle.

Tina Jordan Rees: “In 2018, having not long turned 30, I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. Thankfully, it was found early and I had an operation which cured it. My outlook on life has changed somewhat since then. I want to enjoy like more, take in the small moments and breathe.”

“It was important to me to be creative once again after the majority of music had stopped during the pandemic. Making music brings me so much happiness and makes me feel alive. I have enjoyed pouring my heart and soul into this album and playing with the fantastic musicians who joined me for it.”

“I decided to name the album Beatha as a nod to this journey we are all on. As ‘beatha’ means life in both Scottish and Irish Gaelic, I feel it reflects my time spent in Ireland and Scotland where I now call home.”

The result is a beautiful, life-affirming album featuring ten tracks of self-composed Gaelic-inspired tunes. Tina Jordan Rees plays flute, whistles and piano, and is joined by guest musicians, Séan Gray (guitar), Lea Larsen (Bodhran) and James Lindsay (double bass).

From sweet and poignant to dramatic and fast-paced, Jordan Rees’ thoughtful compositions and inspired playing takes us on a journey that invokes a fulsome range of emotions. Beatha is an album that followers of Gaelic folk would do well to seek out, whether they are familiar with her previous work or not.

Beatha was released on June 24th and is available on CD and all the major musical platforms.

Photo credits: Elly Lucas

https://tinajordanrees.com/

Folk: album review – Andy Martyn ‘Will We Give It A Go?’

A virtuoso of the button accordion and a notable figure on London’s traditional Irish music scene, Andy Martyn has been immersed in traditional music from a young age and has gone on to collaborate with many leading players. Appearing on a number of albums, past collaborations have included work with the likes of John Carty, Brendan Mulkere, Alias Ron Kavana and Gino Lupari, as well as with London-based bands, Le Cheile and Slip Jigolos. Will We Give It A Go? is Martyn’s debut solo album released under his own name, however.

Evidently, he may have taken a little persuading to have finally agreed to a solo release. Writing in the album liner notes, he observes: “Having been persuaded by a number of musicians and friends over the years to put down a new recording, I chose perhaps the most strange time to do so during a global pandemic which severely restricted our ability to meet, play and record together.”

Any logistical challenges presented by putting such an album together has clearly not impeded on its vibrancy and vitality, It really is a delight to listen to. Distilling the spirit of traditional Irish music from the streets of London while reaching back to Martyn’s own Galway family roots, he brings us an album that’s both highly inventive and one steeped in tradition.

Described as a landmark recording of traditional Irish music in London, the fourteen-track CD combines some of Marty’s own compositions with his own interpretations of Irish airs, reels and other traditional tunes.

Traditional airs like the ‘Lament Of The Three Marys’ jostle with traditional reels like ‘The Sailor’s Bonnet’ and several of Marty’s own compositions including three of his previously unpublished tunes: ‘Dream Maker’ (an air composed for the late Brendan Mulkere), ‘The Light of Home’ and ‘The Ballygawley Barndance’.

Martyn has drawn on his long-established connections on the scene to pull together an impressive line-up of supporting musicians: John Carty (Patrick Street), Gerry Diver, Gino Lupari (Four Men and a Dog), Matt Griffin (Seamus Begley Trio), Michael McGoldrick (Michael McGoldrick Band, Usher’s Island), Trevor Hutchinson (Lunasa), Elaine Conwell (The London Lasses), Sinead Egan (The Egan Sisters), Tad Sargent, Kevin Boyle (Le Cheile) and Barney Morse-Brown (Duotone).

Altogether, an impressive outcome for this long-awaited solo venture from the Irish button accordion virtuoso, Andy Martyn.

Released: 1 March 2022

https://www.andymartynmusic.com/

Folk: album review: Pat Walsh ‘Simply Whistle’

Simply Whistle pretty much does what it says on the tin. For the past five decades Pat Walsh has been part of the north-west traditional music scene and across each of its nineteen tracks this album puts Walsh’s tin whistle and her beautiful jigs, reels and flings centre-stage.

Walsh was born to an Irish family in Manchester in the mid 1950s. This beautifully-packaged CD with its informative twelve-page booklet details not only the background to the tunes, both the traditional numbers and original compositions, but also Walsh’s own life story and her abiding love of traditional music.

“I have tried to describe the really important part that Irish traditional music has played in my life,” she says in the sleeve-notes. “And my enduring passion for playing and listening to it. I have often wished that my great grandfather John Ryder, the fiddle player from Longford had done something similar for later generations to read. If my grandchildren or their children get the bug for trad music, I hope they find that this memoir and the tunes fill in the back story, or maybe even it will pique their interest. Either way, this is for them.”

Produced by Mike McGoldrick, who has played alongside Walsh and also features on the album, the production retains a clean and simple feel which works so well. Within seconds of putting the album on Walsh’s evocative playing has immediately transported you to another time and place.

Released: 14th September 2020

https://www.patwalshwhistle.com/