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On the Upbeat: May 2020

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I don’t believe many of us had any idea initially that we’d still be sequestered in our homes by the invisible virus plaguing our world, with hearts broken for those who have lost loved ones and livelihoods, irritated at governmental inefficiencies, and the feeling, at times, of such a lack of control of our lives that it is hard to bear.  We have all had to find ways to make it through, and our Celtic musicians, although some of the greatest losers in this pandemic, have afforded us with daily balms with mini concerts, lessons, and online visits that give us all brightness in our day.  From Colin Farrell, We Banjo 3 and the Sligo Musicians with their daily performances, to Kevin Crawford, JigJam, Aoife Scott, Norrie MacIver, Outside Track, Goitse, Drowsy Lads, and The Byrne Brothers with their clever comedic intros just to mention a few, we have been gifted with their music.  There are few times of the day in which you cannot find a musician or band online sending us a diversion from our four walls.  A mere “thank you” seems small, but is heartfelt.

While all the confusion and fluster trying to get everyone to their homes, ourselves hunkered down, and the processing a new normal, two new albums that had just been released ended up being given little notice, so let’s try to remedy that.

A band who had garnered much attention during their first tour last year was Mayo’s Billow Wood.  After a successful Kickstarter, they were just ready to debut their new album, WALLS OF CAVES, when the virus hit.

Their second album, this is a masterpiece of mostly songs all composed and arranged by the band.  Mark O’Donnell, Ciara O’Donnell, and Brid O’Donnell all show their ability to write lyrics that go right to the heart, that pull from us, memories of places we have been in relationships, as in “Old Friend’s”…” But I miss you old friend…I know I have closed that door…if I held out my hand, would you turn away from me?”  Whether listening to this song, “Should I Stay,” “Rabbit Hole,” or any of the other songs, you will be taken into your soul on a trip through personal experiences.

Add in fourth member, Harry Lawlor, and you have four amazingly talented multi instrumentalists, who also can also sing.  Their harmonies are fresh, tight, and interesting.  As soloists, each comes with their own special sound.  Mark’s breathy huskiness pulls us in immediately on “Running From Wolf,” then Harry picks it up and takes the tune with his strong clear voice which is followed by Ciara and Brid with a powerful chorus.  The very first song gives notice that they have the vocal chops and intend to deliver with power, depth and beauty.

The album consists of eight songs and two instrumentals, both of which will leave you wishing for more.  Their playing, Mark on guitar and fiddle, Harry on harp and guitar, Brid on accordion, and Ciara on whistles, flute, and bodhran, will show you the depth of the talent this band possesses.  Head to their website and treat yourself to a special new album.

Poor Man’s Gambit (pictured) was another band who had, in February, just released their album Land of Sunshine planning to introduce us to it in a series of concerts which promptly were canceled.  Poor Man’s Gambit is singer Corey Purcell who also plays the accordion, cittern, and bodhran, Dierdre Lockman on fiddle and vocals, and Federico Betti on fiddle and guitar.  Well entrenched in the traditional music of Ireland, Scotland, England and Brittany, they also will occasionally weave in American folk, old timey, and pop.

This album will keep you riveted with its variety of songs and instrumentals.  They took a big chance with several of the songs, and thoroughly pulled them off.  “The Rocky Road to Dublin” is a favorite of many who have their band of choice they want to hear sing it.  Corey’s sure and expressive voice take this iconic song and delivers it with all the alacrity and punch anyone could hope for.  The beat of his bodhran, Dierdre’s harmony, and the perfect fiddle accompaniment will prove to make this version a favorite of many.

Another risk was including the currently often recorded and performed “Beeswing,” but once again, they will have their seven and half minute version with simple, yet stunning, accompaniment a favorite.  Corey ‘s voice will be one sought after by many for collaborations.  Add in a version of John Lennon’s “Imagine” put to traditional instruments makes for a very interesting and enjoyable listen.

The instrumental selections are brilliant and include traditional tunes such as “The Broken Pledge” and The Humors of Wesport.” There are also tunes composed by Maurice Lennon, “Laoise Kelly’s,” and a particular favorite of mine, Martin Mulhaire’s “The Land of Sunshine” the title track of the album.  Add in tunes from Brittany including a jig written by Frederico and several tunes composed by Corey and Dierdre, and you have a superior collection that will, truly, wow and amaze you.  

Pennsylvania based Poor Man’s Gambit is on its way to being recognized as an extremely talented and diverse band who you will be hearing great things about when our doors are once again open.  In the meantime, head to their webpage and add Land of Sunshine to your collection!  Take care!

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