Open The Door For Three – The Joyful Hour
Self Released – 16 March 2018
Rarely has an album been given a more appropriate title, my only reservation, this thoroughly joyful music doesn’t last for a full hour. But when they’ve given us 47 minutes of such quality, I forgive them. From the first few seconds, when Kieran O’Hare’s tin whistle starts Boyne Water, quickly joined by Pat Broaders on bouzouki, and then by Liz Knowles’ fiddle, this is clearly music to lift the spirits. As the set progresses through Let Us Leave That As It Is and finally to Happy to Meet, Sorry to Part, Keiran’s uilleann pipes take over the lead, and more than just spirits are lifted, it’s likely you’ll be out of your seat and dancing around the kitchen.
The second track, a late nineteenth-century song, Carrig River, changes but doesn’t break this uplifting mood. The lyrics may reference those that died in uprisings past and evoke the sadness and regret of emigration, but the overriding sentiment extols the beauty and serenity of that part of County Wexford. With the lightness and clarity of Pat’s voice, a haunting, repeating phrase from Liz on the Hardanger fiddle and the interplay of fiddle, pipes and whistle, the song becomes an invitation to pause and let memories of your own favourite places wash over you.
Despite being the third album release from a band with a pretty unforgettable name, I must admit this is the first time I’ve come across them. That’s less surprising on discovering the first two albums are only available in the UK as imports, obtainable through Amazon at silly prices. Although US based, individual band members may be more familiar, Liz Knowles in particular. She’s a member of the String Sisters who played 3 dates in England, Scotland and Ireland back in January, including Celtic Connections and will tour again in May (we reviewed their recent album ‘Between Wind & Water here). Kieran and Pat have outstanding track records in ensemble work, being much in demand to play with many of the finest Irish, Irish-American and Canadian musicians. All three came together as performers and members of the production team of the French-based Irish music and dance show, Celtic Legends. Having toured this production for several years, the close rapport and enthusiasm for each other’s music developed and they seem to have found a natural outlet in Open The Door For Three.
The remaining nine tracks are split into three songs and six tune sets. The songs, with Pat taking all the vocals, provide some interesting contrasts. One, Ye Lovers All, was learnt, indirectly, from a singer in Co. Monaghan, Marie McEntee, via Co. Antrim singer and song collector, Lee Graham. With a pedigree like that it’s as Irish as can be, a gentle tale of courtship that threatens to go wrong but ends happily. The song could stand on its own but bouzouki and whistle give it an equally gentle accompaniment with fiddles joining just for the middle break. Creeping Jane and Clyde Water could hardly be more different. The lyrics come unchanged from recordings acknowledged in the liner notes, Martin Carthy for Creeping Jane and Nic Jones for Clyde Water, both singers with their own unmistakable styles. But give those lyrics to a fine Irish voice and whilst the words and, to a significant degree, the phrasing, may be the same, the songs take on a new life. Not content, the trio have weaved traditional tunes between the verses, stamping an unmistakably Irish imprint onto the songs. If, despite the efforts of today’s archivists, 200 years in the future modern records prove to be as fragmentary and contradictory as those of the past, I can imagine 23rd Century Mudcat debates as to just where these songs originated. Was it in England, Scotland or Ireland?
The trio have worked hard to produce lively, imaginative tune sets, providing liner notes that identify the various components. Pat, Liz and Kieran seem to delight in providing as much information as they can. Two of the classic Irish collections, Canon Goodman’s manuscripts held at Trinity College Dublin and Francis O’Neill’s Waifs and Strays of Gaelic Melody have provided the majority of the traditional tunes. Band members have learned others from players in Ireland and elsewhere, Cape Breton notably adding a Scottish voice to some of Liz’s fiddle pieces. Liz herself has composed additional elements, principally counter melodies and harmonies. This amalgam of traditional and contemporary compositions from Liz and others has delivered a canon of instrumental music that honours the tradition yet preserves a personal imprint from each of the three players, a truly winning combination.
The album closes with a particularly rousing set of reels, led by Kieran’s pipes. Charming Mary Kelly leads on to The Cat That Ate the Candle, the set finishing with The Achonry Lasses, Liz’s fiddle sharing a hectic duet with Kieran’s pipes. The band acknowledges their inspiration for this last tune was the Planxty version with Liam O’Flynn and James Kelly, so it was a bittersweet experience listening to this in the week we heard of Liam O’Flynn’s death. But in Kieran O’Hare we have a piper who quickens the pulse and stimulates the brain, reason enough to be optimistic for the future. It’s unfair to single out any one band to carry forward the torch that Planxty lit all those years ago, but the music Pat, Liz and Kieran are making can certainly hold its head high in such exalted company. The Joyful Hour gives out its joy in abundance and deserves a place in anyone’s collection.
Live at The Kennedy Centre in 2016: