Already being hailed as one of the best albums of 2017, Damien O’Kane’s Avenging & Bright is released today (December 8).
Last year his ground-breaking, highly acclaimed album Areas of High Traffic was not surprisingly nominated for Album of the Year at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. Radical and revelatory, Damien’s first album in five years took traditional Irish songs and sent them reeling into a contemporary soundscape.
Now the master musician, songwriter and vocalist is back to continue that unorthodox musical adventure on his third solo record – and this time the Yorkshire-based Ulsterman is out for revenge!
Avenging and Bright, picks up the progressive cudgel once more with heartfelt songs from his Irish homeland mixed in with some English and original songs too – one written by wife Kate Rusby. Another rapier-sharp release it once again ambushes the tradition and tempts it into undiscovered realms, whilst always staying true to the songs’ roots.
Bold and unflinching in its course, the 11-track album takes its title from what is deemed to be one of the three tragic stories of the Irish, found in the 19th century book The Songs of Ireland. He has penned the tune to complement the words of Irish poet Thomas Moore.
Written in 1811 it tells the tale of the three great warrior sons of Usnach who hailed from Emain Macha, believed to be the first capital of Ulster. They were betrayed and killed by Conor, the King of Ulster. This is the song of brothers-in-arms at payback time: “Avenging and bright falls the swift sword of Erin/ On him who the brave sons of Usna betray’d.”
O’Kane gives it a big, swashbuckling, sword-clashing setting befitting a title track, aided and abetted by his fine band – Steven Iveson (electric guitars), Anthony Davis (keyboards, synths, pads), Steven Byrnes (guitar, electric tenor guitar), Josh Clark (drums, percussion) and guest appearances by Kate Rusby and American bluegrass banjo wizard Ron Block (Alison Krauss and Union Station).
Slickly produced by Coleraine-born O’Kane, he plays electric and acoustic tenor guitar and his outstanding trademark tenor banjo.
These are lush, innovative other-worldly soundscapes he wraps carefully around traditional Irish songs like Bright Flowers, Poor Stranger and opening number Boston City. Soaring electric guitars, luxurious programmed percussion and O’Kane’s rich and distinctive Irish brogue prove a captivating, spectacular mix.
O’Kane also boldly tackles a huge song from the Irish folk canon – The Homes of Donegal. It proves a perfect fit. Always proud of his roots this is a sublime, heartfelt take on Sean McBride’s ballad, against a lustrous arrangement.
Released on the Pure Records label on December 8, Avenging & Bright gets right under the skin of traditional Irish and English folk seducing it into the realms of rock, jazz and world music – never predictable, always an exciting and uplifting voyage of discovery delivered by one of the most fearless and clever conjurers of modern folk music.
Damien and his band make their debut at Celtic Connections Festival with a gig at Glasgow’s Drygate Brewery on Thursday, February 1. This will be followed by band gigs at The Forge, Basingstoke (February 22) and Chapel Arts Centre, Bath (February 23).
Damien will then be touring UK with fellow banjo player Ron Block (Alison Krauss Band) next July/August including an appearance at Cambridge Folk Festival.