Words by Geoff Wallis
“What’s the definition of perfect pitch?” goes the old joke to which the jocular riposte is “Throwing a banjo into a skip and hearing it smash an accordion.” For even in relatively banjo-friendly Ireland, the land of Barney McKenna, Johnny Keenan, Gerry O’Connor, Angelina Carberry and John Carty, the four-string tenor banjo remains low down on the instrumental pecking order (but still higher than the sainted accordion). To add to that illustrious list above, there’s County Galway’s Enda Scahill, author of two acclaimed banjo tutorial books and maker of a splendid solo album, Pick it Up. Scahill’s the driving force behind We Banjo 3, whose other members are the young brothers Martin and David Howley. All three, of course, are banjoistas, as well as playing mandolin and tenor guitar, while David adds vocals of a maturity well beyond his years.
From start to finish, Roots of the Banjo Tree is an absolute gem of an album that pays great homage to both Irish and bluegrass banjo players of the past. The reel ‘Martin Wynne’s #2’ is a stonking opening track, while the jerky Appalachian ‘Kitchen Girl’ folds neatly into ‘The Donegal Lass’, a jig composed by Flook’s whistler-flautist Brian Finnegan. British five-string banjo wizard Leon Hunt joins forces with the trio for a barnstorming ‘Poor Old Liza Jane’, and Scahill’s brother Fergal adds some fiery fiddle to ‘Up Against the Boughalauns’. David Howley’s songs are firmly from the old-time tradition and when he claims, on ‘We All Need More Kindness in This World’, that there’s a terrestrial shortage of banjos, one is utterly forced to agree with him on the evidence of Roots of the Banjo Tree.
TRACK TO TRY: Over the Waterfall/The Liberty Polka
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