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DAMIEN O’KANE - Areas Of High Traffic

DAMIEN O’KANE - Areas Of High Traffic
Pure Records PRCD39

It’s been a while since Damien released his first solo album (Summer Hill), which proved beyond doubt that he’s much more than a skilful banjo player, a fine singer, and (still) an important member of Kate Rusby’s band. Summer Hill revealed his inherent talent for adapting (and, in so doing, providing new and stimulating melodies for) traditional songs, and would have proved a hard act to follow by any standards – and yet he’s definitely eclipsed that with this generous new collection, which builds on these talents yet informs them with an even more pronounced contemporary sensibility in accessible, well-upholstered settings that take a carefully blended approach to the accompanimental role. A specific case in point is The Maid Of Seventeen, featuring soft-textured keyboards (Anthony Davis) and jazz-inflected electric guitar (Steven Iveson), but when Damien then adds his rippling, inventive banjo to the mix, the effect is even more scintillating, as on The Close Of An Irish Day (which also showcases Cormac Byrne’s intricate percussion inventiveness).

There’s a lot going on in Damien’s creatively layered settings, and the slightly laid-back nature of some of the rhythmic input can be deceptive and require further detailed listening. And Damien’s willingness to revisit well-worn songs and invest them with new meaning through provision of an entirely new melody is nowhere better demonstrated than on The Banks Of The Bann (where, incidentally, his voice is supplemented by that of wife, Kate, herself). Just over halfway through the disc, we’re treated to a pair of instrumental tracks, of which The Goddaughter Part 1 is a mesmeric uptempo jazz-rock-style piece with a tricky time-signature (and suitably breathless banjo part!) and Interlude For Mama is an affectionate (if maybe unduly brief) tribute to a special lady. These tracks, like the rest of the album, are filled with all the warmth and passion that Damien and his crew can muster. It’s slick too, sure, but it feels right.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 111 of The Living Tradition magazine.