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Jepettos appeal to our inner romantic

The Jepettos label their sound “gritty folk lullaby.”

By Colleen Taylor

letters@irishecho.com

It takes a certain kind of band to make the ukulele edgy, but the Jepettos do just that. Launched out of Derry just two years ago, the Jepettos are cutting-edge folk music. Founded and led by husband-and-wife team Mike and Ruth Aicken and supported by a quintet of wood and string instruments, this band plays music that completely re-envisions the folk genre. While many alt folk bands today clash the natural sounds of traditional instruments with the reverberated tones of a soundboard, the Jepettos are more apt to blend, smoothly mesh, rather than collide. Their music is soft but different. Their collection is still growing, but each song they have recorded so far is nuanced and creative: a seamless collage of harmonies, classical and folk instruments, and energetic rhythms.

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While their recording career is still fairly new, the Aickens are longtime co-workers. The couple has been writing songs together for over 15 years, since their youth as childhood sweethearts. Ruth provides the voice, and Mike the harmonies and guitar chords, but they both take equal parts in writing songs for their band. Artistic collaboration is a key part of their marriage. It’s no surprise, then, that the Jepettos sound emits authentic romance. “Water,” for instance, one of their first and one of my favorite singles, is a sensuous, sweet fusion of Ruth’s unique, almost childlike lead vocals, with incredible backing harmonies from her husband, as well as a powerful, inventive beat provided by the cello. The accompanying music video for the song is, like the band, a comingling of times and styles: it feels modern and current but there’s also an allusion to something like Edwardian romance in the way the music video is styled. “Water” is an interesting, transportive listening and viewing experience.

The Jepettos label their sound “gritty folk lullaby”—a label that showcases their unique identity as a band. Their songs allow the folk ballad, old-time lullaby, and indie-rock song to all come together in one track. “Orchard,” a single they released last year, is the perfect example of this. What I like about the Jepettos is that they are unafraid to play to the inner romantic in all of us. They’ve taken something from an earlier era, the folk tradition’s classic love song and lullaby, and modernized it. In turn, their music projects mystical atmosphere: the perfect marriage of old and new, a past ideal and contemporary reality.

Because the band encompasses so many tastes and styles with natural, unadulterated charm and allure, they’ve attracted a good number of fans in the UK and Ireland, as well as fellow artistic collaborators, like cellist Alana Henderson and fellow Northern Ireland band, Cup O’ Joe. Recently, their music was picked up for a feature film, “Braxton,” a 2015 Belfast horror film. However, because the Jepettos fall in the gap between the traditional folk and pop music parties in Ireland, the band considers themselves somewhat of an anomaly at home. Which is why they plan to take their music abroad, specifically aiming for the States.

As of this month, the Aickens are forging into a new genre and trend. Their next project is “New Portals,” an electronic folk endeavor. New Portals is essentially the same band as the Jepettos in the sense that the Aickens are still its founding songwriters, but this new collaboration adds alt-electro flourish to the folksy romance established by the Jepettos. New Portals has more beats, more machines behind its sound. Just last week the couple released one of the first singles from New Portals, called “Do It Right.” Although I’m still partial to the original modern folk sound of the Jepettos, I appreciate the Aickens’ innovative chutzpah with New Portals. Ruth’s versatile vocals are as equally suited to New Portals’ more commercial pop-indie identity as they were to the acoustic folk. While “Do It Right” has lost the more historical essence of the folksy Jepettos, the song does retain the same mysticism that made the Aickens’ first songs distinctive. With “Do It Right,” the Aickens take their folk and Americana foundation to even greater contemporary ambitions. They not only want to modernize folk, they want to electrify it, as New Portals evinces.

Give both the Jepettos and New Portals a listen through their Facebook page or their website, thejepettos.co.uk. And keep an eye out for possible American tour dates—the couple plans to take New Portals on the road soon.

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