It’s been a long time coming but finally it’s here. Damien O’Kane’s second album, Areas of High Traffic (his first for five years), is a radical departure in style from his first, Summer Hill. This, says O’Kane, is the album he’s always wanted to make.
Over the course of around an hour O’Kane takes some of the most well-known songs from the Irish traditional repertoire and brings them kicking and screaming into the present day.
O’Kane is helped in this project by three top-class musicians who are allowed the freedom to really stretch out and explore the nuances of these songs and tunes.
The sound O’Kane is going for is immediately apparent in the first track ’Till Next Market Day’. The rippling guitar of Steve Iveson is supported by lush synth chords and the rock-solid drumming of Cormac Byrne. The real surprise is the heavily processed and layered voice of O’Kane which take the track out of the realm of folk-rock and into another world entirely.
The lyrics of five of the songs on this album are taken from one source, ’Folk Singing in North Derry: Shamrock, Rose and Thistle’. One of these pieces, The Maid of Seventeen (a simple pastoral love song) is turned, by the four musicians, into a six minute rock/jazz number.
The second half of the album is much the stronger. The Banks of the Bann is a sweet love song made special by gorgeous guitar playing and vocal support by O’Kane’s wife, Kate Rusby.
The Goddaughter-Part 1 lets Damien, after a slightly too long guitar introduction, let rip on his banjo in a splendid self-written tune. This is followed by Interlude for Mama, a short piece dedicated to O’Kane’s mother which leads into I am a Youth. This song, about a young man’s promise to be faithful to his girlfriend whilst in America, is elegant in its simplicity.
Areas of High Traffic is not a perfect album. For this reviewer, there’s an over-reliance on sonic effects and vocal processing. However, in an increasingly homogenised commercial folk scene, such a bold risk-taking recording is to be applauded.
Listen with open ears.Stephen Witkowski
Released by Pure Records on the 9th November 2015
1. ’Till Next Market Day
2. The Blacksmith
3. Don’t Let Me Come Home a Stranger
4. The Maid of Seventeen
5. The Close of an Irish Day
6. The Banks of the Bann
7. The Goddaughter - Pt. 1
8. Interlude for Mama
9. I am a Youth
10. Erin’s Lovely Home
11. The Green Fields of America