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Basciville’s Byrnes have ear for blues

By Colleen Taylor

Superstar musician Hozier has been giving the Irish a reputation for heart and soul worldwide. His top-of-the-charts global hit “Take Me to Church” was one of America and Britain’s most played tracks a couple months ago, pushing Ireland toward a reputation for hip, doleful beats. But Hozier isn’t the only Irishman bringing soul into the recording studio—he has some talented contemporaries following his lead. I recently discovered Basciville, a brother duet from Wexford with a great EP and an ear for the blues.

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Cillian and Lorcan Byrne look to the States for their musical influences. They list their icons as Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Ella Fitzergald, but Basciville locates a soul and blues tradition in Irish culture too. After all, music doesn’t have to be strictly of the soul genre to be soulful, and Irish folk music has a centuries-long tradition of emotive singing. One need only listen to Liam Clancy’s “The Patriot Game” to hear the soul inherent in Irish music. The Byrne brothers pick up on that homegrown heartfelt legacy as well as the more explicit musical influences of the American blues and R and B singers. Their music is modern-day folksy blues, or soulful indie, or bluesy folk, or any combination of those monikers. Whatever you want to call this amalgamation of genres, the music hits home.

Basciville’s EP is called “Blues in Red,” and it exudes a hip kind of nostalgia for another country, another time. The title for track, for instance, sounds like it belongs in a Southern bayou in the early 20th century and yet somehow in modern day Ireland at the same time. It combines deep-voiced, traditional hummed harmonies at the start, then morphs into a more pop-y rock tune by the end. I appreciate the song’s ability to transform time and place throughout the course of one track. It resists perfect musical coherence, and enables an exciting listening experience. I wouldn’t, however, recommend the “Blues in Red” music video. It ruined the easy effect of the song with some glaring, almost gothicized lighting. The audio needs no visual aid—it inspires listener interpretation all on its own.

You can hear a characteristic signature sound in creation for Basciville on “Blues in Red.” The two brothers are definitely carving out a solid identity for themselves, and yet no track sounds the same as the one before it on the EP. Making comparisons isn’t easy with this band, which is part of what I like about them. Their song “Sweetheart Rodeo” is not quite like anything I’ve heard before. It’s 1950s yet futuristic, a true hodgepodge of sounds that somehow works and undoubtedly intrigues the ear.

“Sweet October” and “Wanting More” offer a lighter touch for the EP. These two sweet, acoustic love songs might be my favorites on the record. Despite all the technology musicians have at their fingertips nowadays, nothing can surpass strong, soulful vocals and quiet guitar strings in the background. What’s more, “Sweet October” while undoubtedly inflected with more of a blues than a folk tradition, strikes me as particularly Irish in its sensibility. Perhaps this comes from the song’s ability to harness the profound connection between melody and word. It’s not a lost art after all.

I’m excited to see what comes next for this soulful pair of brothers. They’re starting to make a name for themselves in Dublin, playing Whelan’s and Workman’s and opening for the much-loved Roisin O. Maybe soul is the next new genre for the Irish. It certainly worked for Hozier and now it’s working for Basciville.

Colleen Taylor writes the Music Notes column each week in the Irish Echo.