Tuesday 12 December 2017


CD Review

Avenging & Bright

Damien O'Kane
Either Damien O’Kane has so much talent it cannot be confined by one particular genre or he chooses not to recognise the boundaries, the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

His third solo album continues the journey from his previous, highly acclaimed collection however, there are times on this disc where, if you didn’t know the history of the lyrics, you would find it difficult to see its folk credentials at all.

There are tracks where the electronics and electric guitar completely overshadow any traditional strand. Fortunately there are also tunes where the modern arrangement has been more sympathetic in the fusion. It does though create an album which has a kind of musical schizophrenia.

The opening of Boston City feels like it’s been lifted from a 10CC track but is followed by that melancholic Celtic drawl which seems to define certain singers such as Kris Drever, Ewan McLennan, Dick Gaughan and of course O’Kane.

If you listen carefully there is a definite cut off point almost as if O’Kane says that’s enough, now for the roots and the banjo picks in, very subtly at first but grows as the song progresses. It’s one of those cases where whether you like his singing style or fusion of sounds you cannot argue against his talent on the banjo.

Strangely enough the opening of Poor Stranger is very close to the border of Muzak. The lyrics are from a traditional Irish song but it’s been surrounded by electronics and electric guitar which makes the song a little insipid.

Kate Rusby
This is one of those tracks where there is little to commend it as traditional or folk.

It’s O’Kane’s voice which saves Bright Flowers, the lyrics and his style do pay homage to the traditional but again the backing music is far too middle of the road.

Unfortunately it doesn’t get any better with the title track unless you are into Lalo Schifrin-style funk. The backing music is good at what it does but sounds more like the soundtrack to an episode of Starsky & Hutch.

O’Kane does get nearer the target with Castle Kelly's, the electric intro bringing in a recognisably traditional beat backed up by what he does best, producing some amazing banjo picking.

Underneath this is a definite reggae-style cadence which blends well but O’Kane’s picking is the star of show.

With Lately, right from the off you can hear his wife Kate Rusby’s fingerprints all over this track. The gentle ballad, where she also adds backing vocals, is among the better tracks on the album with O’Kane’s voice taking on a softer tone in sympathy with Rusby’s.

All Among the Barley gives O’Kane a chance to show just how rich and strong his voice is and is a great track with poetic lyrics which evoke vivid images. Perhaps the only downside is the irritating electronic tinkle which is underneath the whole track but adds nothing to it.

The balance between the modern and the traditional comes very close to being harmonised with January Man. Here the music does go a long way to complement O’Kane’s singing and does genuinely seem to be giving body to the lyrics.

Homes of Donegal will be so familiar to many listeners and O’Kane’s emotive singing more than does it justice. The subtle music works really well, with the guitar playing going a long way to carry the atmosphere O’Kane creates with his voice.

O'Kane's third solo album
The percussion on Many’s the Night certainly makes its presence felt and there are times when O’Kane seems to be competing against it rather than the two complementing each other.

The same is true of his banjo playing, there are points in the track where it gets drowned out but overall it is a strong track which is easy to listen to.

O’Kane’s album goes out with Dancing in Puddles which has a gentle intro almost like the last tune of the night to send people home from the dance. It is a very thoughtful and languid tune and really enjoyable when you sit and let it wash over your imagination.

Adopted Yorkshireman O’Kane is not afraid to push the boundaries or be fiercely adventurous musically and for that he is to be commended. This is an album which works in parts and not in others but it’s O’Kane’s fans and listeners who will have the final say and rightly so.

Avenging & Bright is released by Pure Records and available from the artist's website and usual download sites.

This month you can see O'Kane perform while on tour with his wife on December 16 they play Town Hall, Victoria Square, Birmingham.B3 3DQ. Doors open 7.30pm and tickets are £28 (Under 16s - £18). Free (limited) ticket for disabled visitor’s carers and wheelchair user’s helpers, as per access scheme.

The following night, Dec 17 you can see the couple at G Live, London Road, Guildford. GU1 2AA. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £28 with discounts for parties of eight or more. Under-16s are £19 and there is a £2.50 discount for friends of the venue.

Then on Dec 18 you can catch them at Barbican Centre, Silk St, London. EC2Y 8DS. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £30 plus booking fee. Concessions and discounts are available.
On Dec 19 they play the Theatre Royal, Concert Hall, Theatre Square, Nottingham. NG1 5ND. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £26 plus booking fee.

To finish off the month on Dec 20 they will be playing The Sage, St Mary's Square, Gateshead Quays, Gateshead, NE8 2JR. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £29.40 or £21.80 for under-16s.

Damien and his band will also be touring in February 2018 and with fellow banjoist Ron Block later in the year.

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