As the cover makes clear Idir Muir Agus Sliabh is a collection of Irish traditional songs – there is a Scottish interloper but we’ll let that pass. Three songs are in English, the rest in Irish and Diane Ní Chanainn has eschewed the Celtic ambient style for something more earthy and real. Reknowned as a Sean-nós singer, she is here supported by a cast of musicians that money alone couldn’t buy. At the core is Manus Lunny, who also produced the album, Liam Bradley and James Blennerhasset. Then we have contributions from Donald Shaw, Neil Martin, Charlie McKerron and pipes, whistles and flute from Martin Crossin and Michael McGoldrick.
There’s everything from a lively drinking song, ‘Nil sé ‘na Lá’ to the lovely romantic ‘An Draighneán Donn’ and the regretful ‘Geaftaí Bhaíle Buí’ but even here the band combine to give what could be a wistful song an unexpected drive. Two of the songs in English are ‘Lough Erne’s Shore’ and ‘The Mountains Of Pomeroy’, both of which I heard for the first time last year. The latter is a variation on the Reynardine story, rather more complex than the common versions and also a marching band tune. The third is the immigrant ‘Broom O’ The Cowdenknowes’ which I’m always happy to listen to.
Idir Muir Agus Sliabh is a splendid, multi-faceted collection of songs which Diane, Manus and the supporting musicians have crafted into an album which is at once traditional and also geared to contemporary tastes. Don’t worry about the language problem; there isn’t one. The meaning and emotion of the words are delivered by the performance and the arrangements are superb, particularly Martin and Michael’s decorations.
Take a look at the photographs on the cover of String Theory and you might wonder what you’re letting yourself in for. I mean, these guys look like exiles from Ripper Street! This is the third studio album – there is a live set, too – from the brothers David and Martin Howley and Fergal and Enda Scahill and if you’ve never heard We Banjo 3 before you might still wonder what you’re in for. The name is a puzzle, too: there are four of them but only two play banjo – I suppose that averages out at three!
The boys’ sound is a wild amalgamation of bluegrass, old-timey and Irish, largely traditional with some original compositions and three covers. The set opens with ‘This Is Home’ written by David and Enda, a song expressing hope for continued peace in Ireland and establishing one set of their credentials. Then they switch to ‘Good Time Old Time’, a set of three old-timey tunes, one of them written by Martin followed by ‘Happiness’, an appropriately upbeat song by Tuam singer-songwriter Noelie McDonnell featuring Fergal’s fiddle and the pattern for the album is set.
Greg Brown’s ‘Ain’t Nobody Else Like You’ features vocalist Aoife Scott and other guests include Alison Brown and James Blennerhasset plus a brass section which features on ‘Happiness’. ‘Trying To Love’ is an old song by David and is practically rock’n’roll and We Banjo 3 follow that with the gentle air ‘Crann Na Beatha’ which allows you to draw breath before the sprint to the line. ‘Little Liza Jane’ is a song that everybody knows in one form or another but the star of the set for me is an American variant of ‘Two Sisters’ – there are actually four sisters but the middle pair don’t get much to do.
Finally we get the stonking ‘Chair Snappers’ Delight’ a set which exemplifies the band’s approach. The first tune, ‘Happy Holler’, is an old-timey piece from Tennessee; they got ‘The Wild Irishman’ from Frankie Gavin while ‘I’m Ready Now!’ is from O’Neill’s. String Theory is a great album with some spectacular tunes and fine songs and one we enthusiastically recommend.