Armagh’s Agnews, AKA Cup O’ Joe
By Colleen Taylor
I’ve written before of my proclivity for a new sub-genre gaining momentum in Ireland’s music scene. It’s been dubbed “Eirecana,” and the name says it all. It’s a crossover of Irish and American musical influences in a most interesting phenomenon of reverse diaspora. Eirecana includes Irish bands playing Americana music of all kinds, from traditional bluegrass and old time country to more alt-folk Americana spin-offs. I jumped back into the Eirecana world this week to happily find some young, fresh faces and exciting news.
It seems the Eirecana craze is taking off with Ireland’s youngest musicians, as the launch of young family band Cup O’Joe evince. What’s interesting about this young trio of siblings, whose ages range from 15 to 20, is that their take on Eirecana is one of the more traditional ones out there. Reuben, Benjamin, and Tabitha Agnew were raised in Armagh on American roots music, attending festivals from a very young age, and now they’re playing those festivals themselves. The group somehow manage to fit in a very busy touring schedule between their schoolwork. They’ll be traveling to Castlebar and Derry and in Britain to perform this month. Cup O’Joe are no doubt still finding their unique identity and flavor as a band. They’ve yet to locate that special something that gives them an original spin, but no doubt it’s bubbling beneath the surface. For now, their more traditional interpretations of classics like “Darlin’ Corey” are impressive for the harmonies and mastery of the instruments, the banjo in particular. If this band keeps playing so well, they’ll be making more original Eirecana in no time.
Peco McLoughlin was previously known for his work with Valentine Black, an internationally acclaimed folk-rock act, but McLoughlin has recently taken time out from the band to pursue a solo career. He’s swapped the electric guitar for the banjo, going more strictly roots and acoustic. McLoughlin, who hails from Kildare, is a songwriter as well, and his music is as driven by words as it is by notes. His voice sounds Dylanesque, which is fitting, given his lyricism. McLoughlin is currently working on his first EP, which will be out in early 2016. If his current single releases, “Grace Isn’t Easy” and “Harbour Master,” are any indication, the album will be full of energy and narrative. Lyrics match spirit in McLouglin’s music; he’s a poet as well as a musician.
One of my favorite Eircana bands, the Whileaways, are back in business. I fell in love with their sound after hearing them at Whelan’s in Dublin two years ago, and their self-titled first album quickly became one of the “most played” on my iTunes. Now the Whileaways, comprising Noriana Kennedy, Noelie McDonnell, and Nicola Joyce, are gearing up for a sophomore album release. Kennedy had been on tour with Solas over the summer, but she’s returned to her Galway roots and her hometown band. “Saltwater Kisses” is the band’s new album, and it doesn’t disappoint. It reflects an array of music simultaneously traditional and inventive, inflecting the old balladeer tradition with modernized rootsy flare. “Saltwater Kisses” showcases this band’s musical penchant: perfected simplicity. The songs avoid superfluous ornamentation and let the harmonies and instruments speak for themselves, proving each one of this trio’s natural talent. In particular, I can’t stop listening to “She Waits” and “Wake Up Sleepyhead.” They’ve also included some gorgeous instrumental arrangements on the album as well. Not to mention, the band sounds even more polished than they did in their debut record. This time round, the Whileaways add even more sophistication to their harmonies and collaborations. This trio was meant to play together. This autumn, the band is promoting their new album with an Irish tour. Fingers crossed for an American invasion soon.
Interested in hearing more Eirecana? I’d also recommend the Young Folk, Gavin Glass, and of course, the one and only Solas.