“Little Bohemia” by Fran King and Pete Fagan, aka Edisons, is a seasoned, rehearsed and mature piece of work.
By Colleen Taylor
I’m a sucker for soulful folk music, and I’m always looking for Irish bands that meet those criteria. This week, the light bulb went off when I encountered Edisons, a duo singing Irish Americana. Fran King and Pete Fagan, aka Edisons, released their debut album “Little Bohemia” in 2014—a product of years of study, honing skill, and developing a sophisticated sense of musical vision. This album is as much ontological as it is musicological: the craft of two great musical artisans.
King and Fagan are the perfect musical marriage that might confirm the truism “opposites attract.” Before Edisons came together in 2011, the two songwriters led very different musical careers. King was a Pop/Rock man, starting with the Irish group Beach, for whom he wrote two top hits, followed by many others. Highlights on his pop and rock career included working with Sir George Martin, the Beatles producer, and playing for none other than Queen Elizabeth herself. Fagan, on the other hand, got his start within the Irish music circle. The legendary Paul Brady was awed by Fagan’s soulful voice when he heard him playing gigs in Ireland. With careers dating back to the 1990s on both sides, the Edisons are veterans in the music biz, and it shows in their sophisticated album.
Despite being a debut, “Little Bohemia” comes across as a seasoned, rehearsed, and mature piece of work. As the creative fruit of two longtime singer-songwriters, this polished finish is no surprise. What is more, the album sounds old—in the best sense of the word. It evokes the deep, soulful sounds of the nineteenth-century American West, moving majestically and spiritually back in time. Subtle details like ethereal-sounding choruses and old time acoustic instruments ghost the music and make it feel authentically historical. “Little Bohemia” seems to live in sonic time warp, and that is no coincidence of creativity. Rather, the album’s concept stems from a real piece of history: John Herbert Dillinger and the rise of the American gangsters at the turn of the twentieth century. That sound of nostalgia that coasts throughout the album and becomes, at times, the sound of darker historical sensibilities. “Little Bohemia,” Edisons explain, is a story of “love, loss, desperation, and murder.”
It’s hard to single out one or two tracks on this album for praise, mainly because the songs work together in a narrative arc, making the album a cohesive unit. But if pressured, I’d focus in on “When the Morning Comes.” The soft vocals and choruses on this album make it gorgeously melancholic. You can easily picture the solitude and desolation of undeveloped, middle America as Edisons sing their way through this ballad. A great contrast to “When the Morning Comes” is the upbeat “Take Them Down.” With rhythm like a horse’s trot and a soulful harmonica, the arrangement on this track is as lively as any horse chase.
Close your eyes and listen to “Little Bohemia,” and suddenly you’ll find yourself in a bona fide Western. Their music is so specialized, so carefully crafted that your imagination has to do barely any heavy lifting. Edisons prove once and for all that practice makes perfect, that diverse musical experiences yield good tunes, and yes, good stories. Anyone with interest in American history and Irish music will have a place for “Little Bohemia” in their music library. It was a happy day for Irish Americana, and perhaps for the memory of John Dillinger, when King and Fagan joined forces. The word “Bohemian” connotes the idea of free spirit, and Edisons have spirit in spades, and there is nothing “little” about it.
Colleen Taylor writes the Music Notes column each week in the Irish Echo.