I Draw Slow,
White Wave Chapel
(Pinecastle, 2014)

In my first minutes in the company of this CD, I had to dispel a trio of wrong impressions. The first turned out to be the notion that the band's name is White Wave Chapel and the album's I Draw Slow, as opposed to the reverse. The second is that, the label being Pinecastle Records, headquartered in Columbus, North Carolina, this is a bluegrass disc. And the third is that this is an album of Irish bluegrass. The third struck me as unpromising, inasmuch as (a) bluegrass is a native American, and especially Southern, genre, already represented well by many hundreds of domestic working bands (some on Pinecastle), and (b) Ireland already has its own rich musical tradition.

Well, the Dublin-based, all-acoustic I Draw Slow (hereafter IDS) confounds expectations. It is, for example, a whole lot more interesting than I anticipated, meaning that it is practically nothing I expected. Though there is no bluegrass as such going on, IDS does incorporate the sound of pre-bluegrass Appalachian string bands, or at least it is influenced by such, without imitating them. This is 21st-century music, owing as its proximate influence the neo-mountain approach of Old Crow Medicine Show and Gillian Welch/David Rawlings, but distinguished by a least a hint of Irish folk music. IDS also boasts a command of the tradition, sprinkling its songs with older lyrical and melodic references and quotes.

All but one of the songs -- the exception being the traditional "Don't You Cry, My Honey" -- are originals, composed by brother Dave and sister Louise Holden. The latter carries the bulk of the local vocals. Dave is the guitarist, Colin Derham the banjo player (adhering to the older clawhammer style), Konrad Liddy the stand-up bassist and Adrian Hart the fiddler. The lyrics may be opaque on occasion, but the melodies that carry them are appealingly accessible, affording the impression at once of familiarity and freshness.

I like everything here, but my favorite songs are "Bread & Butter," where the echoes of several strains of Irish balladry take the forefront, and "The Captain," constructed around the antique lyric "the captain he is dead." IDS, a remarkably agile group, ably demonstrates what an innovative yet tradition-accented outfit can be in our time. I have heard other bands attempt roughly comparable fusions, but few succeed as winningly as, improbably perhaps, IDS manages to do.

music review by
Jerome Clark

19 July 2014

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