Fiddles? Check. Bodhrans? Check. Tin whistles? Check.
A trad party? Whoa -- wait a minute! Not so fast!
The instrumentals that make up Jameson’s Revenge’s new disc, While Yer Up, break the mold of traditional Irish music. That is by design, according to singer and vocalist John Walsh.
“The way we were going about it was to create Irish music for the rest of us,” he explains. “We are not purists. It’s not like we don’t get along with everyone, but it’s just that we feel the traditional music players don’t like when you mess with the formula that is set in stone.”
Truer words have never been spoken. I have met many a pretentious trad purist in my day, unwilling to update the sound while simultaneously wondering why fewer people attend these seisiuns and buy albums at Irish festivals.
The collection begins innocently enough, with “The Durty Konway/Hogan’s Hill,” a feisty workout of acoustic instruments that sounds suspiciously like a trad ditty.
The bodhran work of percussionist Brian McCarthy takes some refreshingly funky turns on tracks like “The I-Hop” as Andrew McCarrick layers sweet flutes and whistles on the beat like syrup on a pancake. The woodwinds add a Jethro Tull drama to the mix, turning this traditional reel on its ear.
“Mama’s Porch” has the sweet hayseed charm of a slow dance at the barn, and though “The Golden Shower” title makes your mind make a beeline to the gutter, the tune has the sweetness of morning dew.
It’s that irreverent play on words and sounds that makes While Yer Up such a winner.
The musicianship, in a word, is second to none. The flute solo at the start of “In the Loo/The Moyside Hotel” that anchors the track is intricate and muscular, while Walsh’s strumming accompanies it with acoustic guitar strumming that is simultaneously old world and new world at the same time.
Walsh spent his childhood and early adult life in Co. Kilkenny where he took up the guitar and surrounded himself with the rich musical heritage from that region of Ireland.
Regarded by many as one of the best Celtic guitar players in America, he frequently accompanies some of the biggest names in Irish music today, most notably Paddy Keenan, the legendary uileann piper from the Bothy Band. I guess living bicoastal like that is the reason his playing sounds like Paul O’Simon!
“We’re hoping to bring our friends and fans into the traditional music,” Walsh says. “We like listening to trad just like the next man, but we are trying to take this elitist attitude out of it. It should be fun.
“If we don’t loosen it up a bit and bring some new ears to it we may lose the tradition altogether. It’s like the Rolling Stones and what they brought to the blues. It would bring other listeners into this world.”
According to the band, they learned about playing trad from one of the greats in that genre. Like many Irish-American kids growing up in "da" Bronx in the late seventies and eighties, Jameson’s fiddler Denny McCarthy was a student of legendary teacher and Limerick fiddler Martin Mulvihill.
McCarthy says he learned early-on from Mulvihill the importance of always maintaining a healthy respect for the "tradition" of Irish music while at the same time never being afraid to put his own stamp on the tunes.
During those few years under Mulvihill's guidance and encouragement he developed a style of playing that helped him win numerous All-Ireland titles on the fiddle in solo competition, as well as an All-Ireland title in duet competition with his brother Kevin on the piano accordion.
McCarthy splits his time with Jameson's Revenge and the New York-based group Shilelagh Law, a muscular Irish American rock outfit that peels paint off the wall with a molten sound of aggressive fiddling.
“I think McCarthy’s work with the Law bleeds into his playing here,” reasons Walsh. “He definitely plays with this aggressive stance which is really cool. It’s a huge part of the energy he brings to the band.”
The album promotional tour begins this weekend with a series of shows around New York, but the album has already taken off based on great word-of-mouth buzz, according to Walsh.
“We’ve been lucky. It’s been on the top 100 in the world music charts on iTunes without even promoting it,” he says.
“We sold much more downloads than we did CDs. We’ve been really surprised by the action.
“The lads from the Paddy Keenan Bothy Band said, ‘It wasn’t made for the establishment, it was made for you.’ You can’t get much better than that.”
With While Yer Up, Jameson’s Revenge has produced a traditional Irish album that breaks with tradition to create a modern Irish American classic.
The band plays Connolly’s Klub 45 in Times Square on June 11 and September 16, and the Staten Island Irish Festival on June 12. For more information, visit www.jamesonsrevenge.com.