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The House Devils, Crossing the Ocean

The House Devils
Crossing the Ocean
[The Living Tradition (2012)]

The title of the most recent album by Ireland’s The House Devils, Crossing the Ocean, clearly references that chestnut of Irish music, emigration. However, a closer listen to the music shows that the group has subtly twisted expectations by incorporating American folk back into the traditions of Irish music. In many places, it’s a return trip. No where is this more obvious than on their countrified take of “Awake Awake,” an Appalachian song with its roots firmly planted in English ballad tradition. Singer and guitarist Matt Fahey does his best southern American accent (not perfect, but then again Americans have foisted plenty of fake Irish accents on the world), and does perfect country vocal slides to a tune that is still recognizably British. Other songs, “Castleroe Mill,” “Wearing the Britches,” “Tied My Toes to the Bed,” and “My Bonny Boy is Young” are firmly Irish. But the gorgeous “There With You” again hops the Atlantic for source material.

The mostly slower songs are interspersed with upbeat (but not insanely fast) jigs and reels, and the playing is very good. I’m pleased to note that nothing here is standard fare. Most of the songs here will be unfamiliar to the average listener of Irish music will know, and there’s nothing as played out as the Kesh Jig here. (Of the jigs, “The Ace and Deuce of Pipering” was the only one I recognized, and I consider myself above average in the Irish-music-listening-to department.) Even more unusually, one of the primary melody instruments, beyond Andrew Dinan’s outstanding fiddling, is harmonica provided by Mat Walklate. One of the best sets is “Dinan’s Duo,” a pair of reels with no names. The obligatory balls-to-the-wall (can you use that term with trad music?) ending set, “The Blackberry Blossom/The Sailor’s Bonnet/The Crooked Road to Dublin” shows that the band is able and willing to pull out all the stops on tempo but has the good sense to keep it in control the rest of the time.

Although it’s fun to play “guess the source” on the materials, the two Mat(t)s involved have been so good as to provide liner notes that tell you where the songs came from.

Crossing the Ocean is sure to please anyone looking for an album of Irish music that sounds a little different but is still firmly rooted in the pub playing tradition.

—Jon Patton (Baltimore, MD)

Video: This one’s not on the album, but sometimes you have to take what you can get with trad bands!

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