Thursday, 12 March 2015

DAN WALSH

CD Review

Incidents & Accidents

It may have been a quirk of life which got Dan Walsh started on the five-string banjo, but all the rest has been his own hard work coupled with dedication to an instrument with which he is almost constantly experimenting. And if you want evidence all the hard work has paid off, this album is it.

Dan Walsh and his pet instrument
There's an old adage which says before you can break the rules you have to learn them, well in many respects Walsh never did learn them. He spent the first year of his musical journey on the banjo playing the wrong one. By the time he realised, his fingers were already attuned to the five-string and so he had to find ways of playing the music he enjoyed from the tenor banjo on his instrument and using the clawhammer style he had been taught.
That's pretty much the basis of his style and it's one which has seen him held in high regard and is captured on his new album. The other notable element on this disc is Walsh is flexing his songwriting muscles.
He kicks off the album with one of his own songs, Time to Stay, which is a honky tonk-style blues number which strangely when Walsh sings does sound like a little like John Lennon in the early Beatles stuff. Of course you can hear him whacking the strings of his banjo giving it a staccato picking sound.
Walsh follows this up with an instrumental, Lost Rambler and if you wanted an example of how good he slaps those strings then this is one of the tracks to listen to, in fact the only way to improve it would be to see him perform it live.
Based on a traditional Finnish tune, Hermit of Gully Lake is a light, dancing tune where Walsh uses a minimalist picking to accompany his singing and the light colouring of Patsy Reid on the fiddle. The bluegrass mountain sound takes over for With a Memory Like Mine, Walsh employs that hollering-style of singing with once again his picking flicking so precisely it's almost mechanical.
It's only the title of the next track which contains anything wobbly as you get another chance to enjoy Walsh's pick and slap style of clawhammer on Wobbly Trolley. This is where he mixes it perfectly with the choppy sound of the fiddle.
When Walsh pulls out the nice and easy ballad, The Song Always Stays, you realise he hasn't totally abandoned his first instrument, the guitar and his picking is just as precise no matter what the strings are attached to.
He sings as well
Whiplash Reel is where Walsh really shows his versatility and skill in adapting his instrument. If you didn't know he was a banjo player you could easily be fooled into thinking he was playing the sitar or at the very least a middle eastern string.
Walsh has fallen in love with Indian music and as he says, he plays the banjo so that's what he has to use to play Indian music and a remarkable job he does too, this could be the first of many forays into Indian classic music for Walsh, so watch this space.
He is back to the more familiar sound associated with the banjo for Only Way to Go, a country-style ballad which he sings with Meaghan Blanchard supplying harmonies.
There is some funk slapped into the opening of The Morning Light where he is almost adding his own percussion as well as the sounds of his strings. There are some very subtle changes and nuances created when he plays, slight undertones and half tones which are well worth taking a few listens to enjoy them fully.
Walsh slows things right down with some really gentle, restful and thoughtful picking on the quartet of Tune Set which is A Tune for Sarah, Rambling in Barra, Food for Thought and Thanks to the Kiwis. There are times when you think he is going to go into a rendition of When The Boat Comes In but he never quite lets you get there.
Walsh's new album
This penultimate track does get progressively quicker and is a real showcase for Walsh's skill and again it is full of incidentals and little picking gems which are there to be discovered and enjoyed by the listener.
His closing track is another ballad, Dancing in the Wind, and perhaps more than the others his voice seems to have found its natural level. His singing here does bring to mind the sound of Paul Heaton from the Housemartins and The Beautiful South.
If you love good banjo playing then you really need to treat yourself and indulge in this album and if you don't know what good banjo playing sounds like then even more so, you need to immerse yourself in this album. There should be a spoiler alert here but if you are wondering about the origins of the album title then listen to Paul Simon's Call Me Al, 'nuff said.

Incidents & Accidents is out on March 16 on Rooksmere Records and through Proper Music.

Dan Walsh is at The Woodman Folk Club, Kingswinford on Friday March 13 at 8.30pm. Entry is £6 for members and £7 for non members. Walsh then plays in his home town of Stafford in The Met at the Gatehouse Theatre. The show starts at 8pm and tickets are £10.

You can read the full interview with Dan at http://folkall.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/dan-walsh.html where he speaks about learning the banjo, his musical crusade and playing his home town.