Son of Coleraine, now firmly ensconced in South Yorkshire, folk pioneer Damien O'Kane has produced a third solo album of quite outstanding quality in Avenging & Bright. Following 2015's ground-breaking Areas Of High Traffic, O'Kane has virtually created a genre of music all to himself with a unique contemporary take on traditional Irish material, alongside self-penned songs and tunes, which all fit seamlessly together to create a lush and vibrant sonic package.
Accompanied by a tight band of brothers which also now form the nucleus of wife Kate Rusby's touring ensemble, and with Kate and banjo supremo Ron Block guesting, O'Kane pushes the boundaries of modern production methods, while simultaneously retaining a connection with his traditional roots; a remarkable feat and one which O'Kane achieves with considerable aplomb.
The album takes its name from 'one of the three tragic stories of the Irish' found by O'Kane in a 19th century book The Songs of Ireland, containing songs and lyrics by the poet Thomas Moore. O'Kane has composed the music to go with Moore's lyrics for the title track, and the album's Game of Thrones style artwork, with O'Kane dressed darkly as if a King prepared for battle, complements these themes perfectly.
Elsewhere the mood is brighter, with opener 'Boston City' setting a lively tone with sprightly banjo contribution from Ron Block, and 'Poor Stranger' confirming the theme with a beautiful electric riff from Steve Iveson. 'Though All Bright Flowers' follows, a contemplative paean to the survival powers of the emerald isle.
'Castle Kelly's' is a favourite traditional Irish tune of O'Kane's, given an effective electric guitar and banjo treatment here, before a beautiful Kate Rusby-penned tale of time, 'Lately', with the composer accompanying on vocals.
Three interpretations follow, the first two being contrasting journeys through a calendar year. Elizabeth Stirling's 'All Among The Barley', a song of seasons, with Irish musician Barry Kerr guesting on backing vocals. Dave Goulder's oft-covered 'January Man' vividly describes the travelling man's passage through the months, and is respectfully interpreted here. Sean McBride's 'The Homes of Donegal', learned by O'Kane from 'Paul Brady's definitive version', is given a sublime arrangement, with Anthony Davis's piano and synth backing and Iveson's riffs to the fore.
Another traditional song, 'Many's The Night' provides the penultimate offering, a song of a night visit given an upbeat arrangement here, before 'Dancing In Puddles' closes the collection, a Peppa Pig inspired tune written by O'Kane for his daughters Daisy and Phoebe, with Ron Block again guesting on banjo.
Although known primarily as a banjo player, O'Kane has developed some considerable prowess on the tenor guitar in recent years, and uses both acoustic and electric versions of these instruments to great effect throughout the album, which overall is an uplifting journey into the nether-reaches of the folk world, and comes highly recommended.
O'Kane is currently touring with Kate Rusby, and will be appearing with his own band at the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow on February 1, followed by a short UK tour. He is touring with Ron Block in the summer, and is booked for various festivals, including Cambridge Folk Festival in August.
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