- 16 Nov 12
The music of Ireland and America are closely entwined – now, a new album explores the intimate connections between the two traditions.
The 1861 Project is an ambitious undertaking, with the goal of telling the story of Irish America in song. And while the recently released Volume 2 purports to cover the period from ‘the Famine to the Front’, in reality it never strays from the role the Irish played in the American Civil War.
Only ‘Free’, on which Tony McLoughlin takes lead vocal, reaches back to the famine years. The songs are all co-written by Thomm Jutz, who some may know from his spells as a sideman with Nanci Griffith and Mary Gauthier.
However, lead vocal and instrumental roles change from track to track, so there isn’t the over-arching musical unity you might expect. Although there are names you will recognise – Maura O’Connell and Jerry Douglas for example and Ben Sands – this isn’t a stellar cast.
They get the job done nonetheless. The album takes in the same time period as the first volume, From Farmers To Foot Soldiers. This is a span of history that had a seismic effect on the culture of the Southern United States and, by extension, the music that developed in that region.
As settlers from diverse European backgrounds were thrown together in transit camps and on battlefields they created a music that was something apart, something new. Both albums reflect that mixing of musical heritages.
After spending the last while soaking up the rarefied air of the Southern United States, our own bluegrass maestro Niall Toner will be happy to be home to see his latest album Onwards & Upwards released this side of the Atlantic.
Having signed with specialist bluegrass label Pinecastle Records the new album is a departure from earlier recordings as his stalwart band have been replaced by a stellar cast of players from the American South. They include Rob Ickes on dobro and Weissenborn guitar, Viktor Krauss on the upright bass, Special Consensus member Ashby Frank on mandolin, and producer Keith Sewell on guitar, fiddle, piano and banjo. The album was recorded at Loud Studios in Nashville. Your radio should be buzzing soon to the strains of ‘Judge & Jury’, the first single from the collection. While a lot of bluegrass players are happy to play the classics Toner has always tended to engage with the contemporary world. Here is no exception as the track isn’t some tale of cowboy justice meted out in the Dustbowl era. Rather it draws inspiration from CSI: Miami and BBC series The Jury.
Some people are simply blessed with names that fit almost too perfectly with their chosen professions. Usually this happens with sports players and newscasters. Every so often you’ll come across the name of a musician and instantly know what kind of sound you’re likely to hear.
Singer and guitarist James Low has such a moniker. It rolls right off the tongue and evokes the sound of dusty country folk played with delicious and deliberate ease over a few cold beers and the occasional whiskey chaser.
And wouldn’t you know it, The James Low Western Front’s 2012 album, Whiskey Farmer, expertly and effortlessly delivers just that.
The band may come from the relatively lush climes of Portland, Oregon. Nonetheless, theirs’ is a sound born in towns like Nashville, Tennessee and Bakersfield, California. It shuffles, grooves, and sweats with the best of them, begging to be played from the in-dash stereo of a pickup.
It’s with that mood and setting in mind that Low wrote and the band arranged the album’s tracks.
The eight-song collection chronicles the plight of the whiskey farmer of the title (portrayed on the cover by Low himself), someone that has, according to Low, “always done things kind of right – did okay in school, went to a generic college, racked up a shitload of debt, and got a job to pay off the debt”. Low adds; “He drinks to forget. He alienates the ones who love him best, and just cannot believe that this is all there is to life.”
James and band play a few Irish dates to promote the album’s Ireland and UK release. They’re in Tom Steele’s Ennis, Friday November 2, Lynhams Hotel. Laragh, Co. Wicklow (3), The Bridge Tavern, Wicklow town (4) and The Weigh Inn, Omagh (6).
If you missed Declan Sinnott on his recent perambulations in support of his solo album I Love The Noise It Makes, don’t despair as there are a few last chances to see him in action before the end of the year. Thursday November 15 sees him performing an intimate gig in Kenny’s, Lahinch. The following evening he’ll be at Cobh’s Sirius Arts Centre.
In his absence ex-Dervish member Seamie O’Dowd has been filling the empty seat across from Christy Moore.