Old Hannah bring the excitement of youth to old folk music.
By Colleen Taylor
Two bands are on the bill today: Buffalo Sunn and Old Hannah. Although these two groups share a hometown Dublin base, their influences and trajectories point in two opposite directions. Buffalo Sunn define themselves as a “cosmic rock” band—in other words, they aim for the futuristic sound. Meanwhile, Old Hannah (as their name might suggest) looks backward to history, traditional folk, roots and Americana of the 19th and 20th centuries. What these two groups have in common, aside from being Dublin-based bands, is that they look to the States for musical inspiration, and thereby make Dublin vibrant with American-infused Irish sounds.
Buffalo Sunn (Daniel and Conor Paxton, Patrick McHugh and Nathan Maher) got their start in 2014, with the release of their debut album, “By the Ocean By the Sea.” The album introduced and trademarked the band’s niche: futuristic West Coast Americana. In other words, Buffalo Sunn sounds like the Beach Boys go to space. But don’t get me wrong: this band isn’t a gimmick. Their sound is subtle, elegant, easy, and it’s the stuff of interesting musical instinct, rather than a joke. Unlike most electronic indie bands that apply reverb in their recordings, Buffalo Sunn remain steadfast and loyal to simple harmonies, in tandem with their electro ornamentation. I’ve always thought intricately arranged harmonies make Irish musicians stand out from the crowd, and Buffalo Sunn fit that description well. Their harmonies are on display most vividly in the track “Drifting Away,” a song that truly reinvents the 1960s boy-band harmony in a futuristic mode.
Buffalo Sunn use the intricately arranged
harmonies that make Irish musicians stand out.
This spring, the band was hard at work on their sophomore album, which they fittingly recorded in L.A. The landscape and atmosphere of California seems to play a big roll in the band’s self-identity and composition. As they informed fans, the location provided fruitful creative processes. Since recording, the band has been playing all over Ireland, particularly in their hometown. They played Phoenix Park two weeks ago, and have a gig lined up for the Pride Parade in Dublin on June 25. For me, what’s astounding about Buffalo Sunn is their ability to bridge generations. “Seven Seas,” one of their biggest singles off their debut album, is the kind of song that will entertain baby boomers and millennials alike.
Old Hannah do not have millennials or the future as a target audience per se, but they bring the excitement of youth to old folk music. The acoustic band is made up of Lucie Crichlow, Luke Mercer, Anthony Mannion, and Leo Morris—all of whom sing and play a range of instruments from mandolin and guitar to banjo and dobro (a special kind of resonantor/steel guitar popular in bluegrass music). If Buffalo Sunn looks to L.A. for influence, then Old Hannah looks to Appalachia. Still, they acknowledge another mountain, of Irish fame, as an influence too: Yeats and Ben Bulben. Although based in Dublin, Old Hannah traces their true origins back to Sligo.
Old Hannah recently released their second EP, “Iron and Wood,” last year in 2015. “West,” the first track on the record, has become a hit among Irish fans. It’s an energetic old country sound with subtle modern influences. “Boats” is a beautiful American country ballad, and it would be hard to believe, upon listening to it, that the band who wrote it is Irish in origin, rather than Appalachian. This band has an exquisite skill for instrumentation, which can be heard in their new EP. They prove excellent guitar playing is not a lost art in contemporary music. Although Old Hannah steer clear of reverb, they, like their futuristic colleagues Buffalo Sunn, display an impressive range of audience. In the span of one week this summer, Old Hannah played the Doolin Folk Festival, then made their way to Body & Soul, the electro-indie outdoor music festival. Even electro fans appreciate the tradition Old Hannah has to offer. Not to mention—they recently opened for the rising pop/rock Irish band Walking on Cars in New York this past May. A debut album is on the way for Old Hannah, and no doubt they’ll be lining up gigs in bluegrass and country festivals Stateside soon.
Find out more about these two burgeoning Dublin bands at buffalosunn.com and oldhannah.com.
Colleen Taylor writes the Music Notes column in the Irish Echo each week.