Balsam Range pairs bluegrass with James Joyce on Goldenhair

James Joyce was surely among the most celebrated and influential authors of the 20th century. The Irish novelist, playwright, and poet is remembered perhaps most widely for his magnum opus, Ulysses, and shorter works, A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man and Finnegan’s Wake, all of which are viewed as having altered the form of the novel itself, and the use of the English language in that form. But he was also a visionary poet whose several collections are less commonly read in the current time.

So what better way to re-popularize his poems than by setting them to music, the way most people around the world experience verse in today’s world. And that is exactly the project to which Joyce’s countryman Brian Byrne has set himself on Goldenhair, a new album released earlier this month. Brian has taken 21 selections from Joyce’s first full collection of poems, Chamber Music, published in 1907, and set them to a variety of contemporary musical styles.

Perhaps by now you have guessed from the fact that we’re discussing it here, that in addition to the sounds of jazz and country, bluegrass is one of the idioms that Byrne chose to interpret James Joyce’s poems. And he asked North Carolina’s Balsam Range to do the honors, recording with Ireland’s RTÉ Concert Orchestra.

The piece on which they appear is entitled Cool Is The Valley, and the members of the group made this video to talk about their participation, where you can hear the track as well.

Goldenhair is available now wherever recorded music is sold from Node Records. Audio samples can be heard on popular download sites.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.