I know I’ve said this before but there are four members of We Banjo 3: two sets of brothers David and Martin Howley and Fergal and Enda Scahill, and only two play banjo but let’s not get bogged down in details. Haven is their fourth studio album and this time they have written all the material, eschewing the traditional music they incorporated into String Theory. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; the musical blend is as before – Irish, bluegrass and old-timey – and although We Banjo 3 are Irish they sound more American now, this album being recorded in Maryland, and that’s where they are biggest. In fact, they are in the US right now on a tour spanning five months.
The band opens with the title track beginning with a hesitant sounding mandolin. A banjo takes over for the second verse and trumpet, saxophone and trombone kick in for verse three and just when you think it might get completely out of control it’s over. The playing can sound a bit wild sometimes but it’s actually pretty tight with twin banjos spread nicely across the stereo mix and everyone getting a share of solo time. The first instrumental set is ‘Sugar House’ and it’s pared back at first but by half way everyone is juggling for position and racing for the line.
‘War Of Love’ begins with a wedding and is told from the point of view of the loser and ‘Marry Me Monday’ is a country waltz with Fergal’s fiddle up front while ‘Sunflower’ is a plea for positivism, at least on a personal level – a simple but quite clever metaphor. I do like the simplicity of ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ even with its big band treatment and the drive of the instrumentals ‘Annabelle’s Cannon’ and ‘Dawn Breaks’.
I like We Banjo 3 best when their playing is wild and on the verge of losing it or stripped back as far as they can be. On Haven they encompass neither extreme – it’s tight and well played but perhaps a little too controlled.
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‘Don’t Let Me Down’ – live: