Traditional Irish Music
Radical and revelatory, Damien’s first album in five years took traditional Irish songs and sent them reeling into a contemporary soundscape. Now the master musician, songwriter and vocalist is back to continue that unorthodox musical adventure on his third solo record – and this time the Yorkshire-based Ulsterman is out for revenge!
Avenging and Bright, to be released December 8, 2017, picks up the progressive cudgel once more with heartfelt songs from his Irish homeland mixed in with some English and original songs too – one written by wife Kate Rusby.
Another rapier-sharp release it once again ambushes the tradition and tempts it into undiscovered realms, whilst always staying true to the songs’ roots. The scene is set by the album’s Game of Thrones style cover with a kingly Mr O’Kane ready for battle!
Bold and unflinching in its course, the 11-track album takes its title from what is deemed to be one of the three tragic stories of the Irish which Damien found in the 19th century book The Songs of Ireland. He has penned the tune to complement the words of Irish poet Thomas Moore. Written in 1811 it tells the tale of the three great warrior sons of Usnach who hailed from Emain Macha, believed to be the first capital of Ulster. They were betrayed and killed by Conor, the King of Ulster. This is the song of brothers-in-arms at payback time: “Avenging and bright falls the swift sword of Erin/ On him who the brave sons of Usna betray'd.”
O’Kane gives it a big, swashbuckling, sword-clashing setting befitting a title track, aided and abetted by his fine band - Steven Iveson (electric guitars), Anthony Davis (keyboards, synths, pads), Steven Byrnes (guitar, electric tenor guitar), Josh Clark (drums, percussion) and guest appearances by Kate Rusby and American bluegrass banjo wizard Ron Block (Alison Krauss and Union Station).
Slickly produced by Coleraine-born O’Kane, he plays electric and acoustic tenor guitar and his outstanding trademark tenor banjo.
These are lush, innovative other-worldly soundscapes he wraps carefully around traditional Irish songs like Bright Flowers, Poor Stranger and opening number Boston City. Soaring electric guitars, luxurious programmed percussion and O’Kane’s rich and distinctive Irish brogue prove a captivating, spectacular mix.
Boston City, also known as The Boston Burglar, is a song he took from the book Irish Street ballads collected by Colm O Lochlainn and gets the album off to a driving start with a strong banjo thread running through it.
The beautiful treatment of the traditional Poor Stranger (also taken from The Songs of Ireland) is spun around Iveson’s glorious electric riff while the contemplative slow-burning Though All Bright Flowers is a serenade to the shamrock and the valiant spirit of the Irish overcoming centuries of turmoil.
Damien turns to electric guitar and tenor banjo for his version of one of his favourite Irish melodies - the traditional reel Castle Kelly’s – before the shimmering, tender tale of time Lately, written by Kate Rusby who joins on guest vocals.
Damien has given an upbeat tune to the traditional Many’s The Night (from Hugh Shields’ collection Shamrock, Rose and Thistle – Folk Songs of North Derry) – a night visiting song where the boy gets the girl!
There’s an exuberant foray into the hunter’s moonlit English countryside for the traditional All Among the Barley – a journey through the seasons – with backing vocals from Irish musician Barry Kerr. The seasons’ theme continues in the outstanding filmic cover of Dave Goulder’s January Man – its wonderful lyrics conjuring up vivid imagery of a man travelling through the year from woollen coat to cotton shirts, snow to summer.
O’Kane also boldly tackles a huge song from the Irish folk canon – The Homes of Donegal. It proves a perfect fit. Always proud of his roots this is a sublime, heartfelt take on Sean McBride’s ballad, against a lustrous arrangement.
The album ends with Dancing in Puddles, an enchanting original tune O’Kane wrote for daughter Daisy, rounding off another emphatic reworking of the old alongside the best of the new.
Released on the Pure Records label on December 8, Avenging & Bright gets right under the skin of traditional Irish and English folk seducing it into the realms of rock, jazz and world music – never predictable, always an exciting and uplifting voyage of discovery delivered by one of the most fearless and clever conjurors of modern folk music.
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