Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Nine 8ths Irish

So, this is one of those "check out the MySpace" posts, except that, for once, it is a band which I've actually seen. On Sunday afternoon Nine 8ths Irish were playing a CD release concert at The Fifth String (man, that's a lot of math in one sentence). It was a neat venue; I've only been in the shop once before, so I couldn't tell you what they had to rearrange to get an audience packed in there, but the walls were still sprouting guitars, mandolins, fiddles, banjos and the like in all directions. I found myself sitting shoulder to shoulder, you might say, with a very handsome Blueridge guitar.

The music was of a handsome caliber to match the setting. It was not just a group of fair musicians getting a tune started and then letting it wander along to an inevitable finish. It might be a rather odd metaphor, but the picture that comes into my mind is a border collie working sheep. He's doing what he was born to do, he's perfectly at ease, and perfectly delighted to be doing it, but by gummy that herd is going where *he* wants to put it, and not just any corner it wants to stravage off into. The musicians here were, in that sense, herding the tunes along. The whistle might play alongside the fiddle here, it might soar into harmony there, it might sink into a whispering drone while the fiddle soared. The guitar might drive the tune with an unadorned rhythm, or braid chords together around it with a flight of passing notes. The bodhran might set a reel on fire, or make a bar startling by its sudden silence. No matter which way the tune turned, quick fingers were wrapped around it, shaping it, embellishing it, nudging it forward. I have mentioned fiddle, guitar, whistle and bodhran, but Brady McKay's warm and masterful vocals were on par with the instrumental virtuosity whenever she was called up to sing.

Some highlights of the evening were, fortunately, sets which the band recorded on their new album: of these one of the most exciting was a break from instrumental pieces altogether with an a capella rendition of the seafaring "Greenland Whale Fisheries," another a rich G-minor reel that would not have sounded out of place in a Cape Breton evening but which was, in fact, composed by fiddler Linda Relph. Also from the album, a set that caused quite a delighted stir was "Sally Gardens/Frank's Reel," where Kathy Barwick jumped in with an unabashedly Scruggs-style banjo accompaniment.

Well, you can hear some of this for yourself at the band's website. And, yes, "that banjo one" is one of those featured in the widget box at the top of the page, if you'd like a sneak peek (it's number 4).

Lastly, to return to the place I started, here is Nine 8ths Irish's MySpace page with another round of very satisfying tunes.

P.S. A word from the experienced: if you should find yourself mentioning this band aloud, take the name slowly and distinctly. One of my coworkers was a bit puzzled when he thought he heard me going off about "Miley Cyrus."

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