Eamonn Coyne & Kris Drever,
(Compass, 2013)

Though Eamonn Coyne & Kris Drever have been around for a while, they're both relatively young. Storymap is their second recorded collaboration, and my introduction to their music if not to their names.

Among the rising stars respectively of traditional Irish and Scottish music, both are active in other groups, in Coyne's case the Treacherous Orchestra and in Drever's as a founding member of the critically revered Lau. Of course, the two traditions overlap (as demonstrated elegantly, for example, in the collective works of the seemingly immortal Boys of the Loch). Coyne & Drever approach the music straightforwardly on acoustic instruments, augmented on occasion by drums, bodhran and accordion, and played with an emphasis on melody and (on three of the nine cuts) lyrics. Coyne's chosen instruments are banjo and tenor guitar, Drever's guitar and mandolin.

While the sound is undeniably modern, a synthesis of various revival experimental approaches, it feels more connected to the older music than many current British Isles folk acts do. That's because, for one thing, the duo eschew pop and rock flourishes. The selections and notes underscore their considerable knowledge of song and instrumental traditions, which inform their musical language. The impression one senses is of how rural tradition carriers of another era would play and sing if they were trained and talented musicians living in the early 21st century.

That's not to imply, in case anyone takes it that way, that Storymap is something of an academic exercise. Not at all; the music is warm and lovely, even joyful. The numbers are well chosen to the men's particular gifts. My particular favorite is "Farewell to Stromness," an old Scottish song new to me, movingly sung by Drever with vocal assistance from the great Eliza Carthy. But everything here will fill a receptive listener's heart.

music review by
Jerome Clark

25 January 2014

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