Growing up in my household, the four types of music I heard a lot were classic rock, 90s hip-hop, bluegrass, and Irish folk. With a grandfather who still performs Irish tunes at pubs around the New Hampshire seacoast, you can imagine I have a fair understanding of that genre. However, I had never heard of We Banjo 3 until I saw their release of Haven just a few days ago pop up on Spotify. I wanted to learn a bit about the Galway-based band a bit before giving them a full listen and quickly realized they were the “founders” if you will of a new genre of music…Celtgrass. The combo of bluegrass and Irish folk is definitely different but oddly works at the same time.
David Howley brings a very soothing sound to the microphone when he sings. Much of his lyrics feel very meaningful and heartfelt. The opening title track “Haven” best exemplifies this with a really beautiful tone set for the entire album right off the bat. The band also utilizes a nice set of overlapping vocals on “Light in the Sky”. But when talking about a soothing sound, you can’t ignore Grammy-nominated Sierra Hull hoping on a track to sing back up for “War of Love”. Her sound just fits well with Howley’s melodic vocals. I am not going to lie…his voice reminds me of a less poppy, more bluegrass version of Ed Sheeran. I know that is a big, strange comparison to make and I don’t know if its the sound of the Irish accent to my American ears, yet…it works. It works well.
This part of the album is rock solid. Enda Scahill, Fergal Scahill, and Martin Howley, as well as lead singer David Howley, all play combinations of banjos, mandolins, fiddles, guitars, and the bodhrán (an Irish drum). And it sounds crazy good. You seriously can hear the strong influences of traditional Irish folk and Americana bluegrass. It is most noticeable on their instrumentally focused songs like “Dawn Breaks”. The band starts with a more traditionally Irish, upbeat-sounding banjo riff, yet then move into this more bluesy sounding piece that seems like it would fit more in a barn out in Kentucky. This is all in the same song and it all surprisingly flows rather well together.
This album has flow. Each song plays right into the next, giving a very fluid feel to the entire project that keeps the listener’s attention. The use of instrumentally focused tracks mixed in is just pleasing to the ears. While there isn’t a ton to talk about for this aspect, it still is pretty dang good.
“Light in the Sky”, “Sugar House”, and “Dawn Breaks”
We Banjo 3 is the Mumford & Sons meets Ed Sheeran meets The Dubliners meets The Gourds. They just have a cool sound. Period. With that said, Haven gets a:
I literally had no idea what to expect stumbling across “Celtgrass” but this album has made me very intrigued by this crossover of Irish folk and American bluegrass. Definitely will be exploring some more of this new genre.