There is an interesting moment in a recent interview with Dave Holden, guitarist of the Irish band I Draw Slow, when he notes that in America their music is described as Irish, and in Ireland, it’s American. The problem might simply be in knowing too much; the band may be from Ireland, but this is American music, drawing from the folk traditions of Appalachia. But, unlike a lot of old-time bands, the genre is a starting point, a beginning rather than and end.
“White Wave Chapel,” is a collection — like the two albums before it — that presents all new songs. That’s not something you’ll typically find from old-time groups from the U.S., where there is a tendency to stay closer to the roots than to the branches, and where the music tends not to reach too far beyond the boundaries of the genre.
It’s too bad, in a sense. The genre is very much alive, and even the hardest traditionalists aren’t CD players, but real musicians making real music in order to communicate with their audiences. In the worst examples there is a studied earnestness within the genre, the music presented not as something that is alive and fun, but as something that is good for you. It’s more bran than popcorn.
But the thing is, old-time music, even back in the day, was social music, played for one reason only: to have fun. It’s dance music, party music. The best performers within the genre approach the music in that vein. A few years ago, the Reeltime Travellers wowed audiences with their energy and their verve. They did lots of standards, but they also did lots of shouting and moving. As well, they used the music as a springboard to new material and new ideas, as in the song “Little Bird of Heaven” was as much of a “hit” as you ever get in old-time music.
In any case, I think the comparison is a good one, because the musicians of I Draw Slow, too, have reached new audiences with their energy, their verve, their creativity and their professionalism. Their song “Goldmine” is what got them noticed last year, bringing them to the States for the first time, in part because of the stunningly beautiful — and exceptionally professional — video that they created for the song. Last year, all the members still had day jobs when they came for their summer tour in the U.S. Through their debut spotlight at the IBMAs, they caught some ears, including those of Jerry Douglas and Béla Fleck, who later joined them on stage at various events.
This year, I Draw Slow is back for another tour in the U.S., and if you have an opportunity to see them, you should take it. This is a captivating, exciting, energetic group with some fantastic songs to present, both from their earlier releases and this recent one. Their writing is skilled, rich and wonderfully mature. As in “Valentine” (for which the band did a video starring Aidan Gillen of “Game of Thrones”) they write about the complexities of adult life. There are no answers here, just edges and ideas.
Given its experience over the past year, the band has also gained a confidence that really fills out the package. You may have a chance to see the band this summer as it will be back in the States for a series of dates. Barring that, the album is a delight. No doubt we’ll be hearing a lot more from I Draw Slow, or at least we can hope.