Traditional Irish Music
On paper, this album shouldn’t work as well as it does, and that’s really the magic at the heart of the collaboration between Irish tenor banjo player/mandolinist Eamonn Coyne and Orkney singer and guitarist Kris Drever. Both artists come from different traditions, but together Drever and Coyne find an enviably powerful synergy on Storymap, their second album. BTW if you haven’t heard Irish banjo before, keep in mind that it’s very different from American banjo. The tunes are flat-picked with a dead and heavy rhythmic sense, and played at extremely impressive speeds. Irish ornamentation on the banjo is limited to triplets, but these ring out like machine gun shots, and doubling up notes (playing 2 eighth notes instead of a quarter note) is used as a trick with the ability to remarkably ramp up the rhythmic feel of a tune. On Storymap, the tunes pour forth like a cascade of water.
Joined by Scottish fiddlers like Simon Bradley and Megan Henderson, Coyne’s banjo playing is swift and powerful, a testament to the genre. Not one to be left behind, Drever’s front and center with Coyne here, flatpicking guitar with banjo duets on opening track “Ceapaval” and tripping along lightly through the “Pot Luck,” three tunes, one of which was written by our good friend Cahalen Morrison! But it’s the songs and the thoughtful arrangements that make this album so beautiful. Drever’s singing on “Farewell to Stromness” fully channels the brine-soaked music of the Orkney Islands, influenced by the camaraderie of hard lives at sea. I’m a huge fan of Drever’s work in any outfit he’s in, and though the songs here can’t match the intense, searing power of the song “The Viking’s Bride” off the first Drever/Coyne album, Honk Toot Suite, they’re still standouts in every way.
There’s a photo of Kris Drever and Eamonn Coyne recording this album, each looking to the other from far across the room and from behind their microphone array. This picture is an illusion. It can’t be true. When you listen to the album, both artists play in a kind of mind-meld, their instruments turning and weaving together like stock cars on a race track, the music arrangements bubbling under Kris Drever’s dreamy Scottish brogue like a warming tea kettle. This is one of the best Celtic albums to have been released in 2013.
This album review first appeared in KITHFOLK, the new quarterly digital roots music magazine from Hearth Music. Check out Issue #1, Winter 2014 HERE. Issue highlights include exclusive interviews with Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Touré, Smithsonian Folkways artist Elizabeth Mitchell, New Orleans roots activists Rising Appalachia and anarcho-folk legends Blackbird Raum. Lots of album reviews and streamable audio. Beautiful original graphic design throughout.
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