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Review: The Unwanted, Music from the Atlantic Fringe

The Unwanted
Music from the Atlantic Fringe
[Compass 7 4536 2 (2009)]

The Unwanted (Cathy Jordan [of Dervish], Seamie O’Dowd and Rick Epping) have decided to reintroduce the cultures of Ireland and the Appalachians to each other. When the Irish reached the New World, they started playing music with African Americans and learned syncopation. The Unwanted have brought it back to the Old Sod (again).

They make all this clear by leading off with a country and Western song written by Leadbelly (“Out on the Western Plains”), which they first heard from Rory Gallagher, and to which they tack on the reel “Jenny’s Welcome to Charlie.”

Their version of Uncle Dave Macon’s “Morning Blues” is a dobro and harmonica duet and leaves Ireland across the pond. A contemporary Irish song, Amy O’Hara’s “It’s Cool to be Green,” ends up being a blues.

A set of reels seems to get more Irish as it goes along. “The Duke of Leinster” finds a traditionally played fiddle backed by an autoharp slightly behind the beat and sounding more like a music box than an instrument. Later “An Phis Fliuch,” a slip jig, starts with a blast of harmonica, which then carries the melody before handing it off to a dobro, which deconstructs it into bluesy riffing.

Cathy Jordan’s soprano is full of smoke, color and bent notes. Her voice is pure and sweet on “Eileen a Ruin,” a traditional Irish song, and much looser and full of breath on the Ozark folk song, “Sweet Becky at the Loom” and “Sadly Grows the Rose,” by Nashville songwriter Sharon Vaughn and Irishman Niall Toner.

Seamie O’Dowd and Rick Epping, an Irishman and an American, are pretty obviously united in their love for each other’s musical culture. O’Dowd is equally adept on the dobro and the fiddle, while Epping is a harmonica virtuoso happy to squeeze a concertina through the old Stones song, “No Expectations.”

This hybrid approach to familiar tunes and songs makes you listen to them anew and hear them differently. You will want more Unwanted.

—Bill Chaisson (Trumansburg, NY)

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