JigJam boasts a clever handle, but aside from the catchy alliteration, the name neatly sums up the synthesis of bluegrass and Celtic sounds that breach the transatlantic divide, one that stretches from the band’s native Ireland to the source of their inspiration, the American heartland. It’s a narrow transom, one that shares its archival approach with another Irish band, We Banjo 3. Like them, JigJam’s dominant banjo-based sound provides their calling card. Yet even though their music mostly tends to be celebratory in its stance, it also allows for heart wrenching ballads and a real reliance on a traditional tapestry.
JigJam’s third studio album, Phoenix, follows on the heels of a recent concert recording, Live in Tullamore, a set of songs that proved the group’s determination to deliver sounds flush with revelry and resolve. The music is no less assured, although there are allowances made for nuance as well as novelty. Some of those selections build gradually. Opening track Someday begins with a cappella harmonies before giving way to a gentle pluck and strum that eventually culminates in full-out frenzy. The chugging tempo of the traditional Red Paddy on the Ridge maintains its steady pace until it crests with an emphatic instrumental surge. Even when the tunes keep to an even keel — Big Grey Dog being but one example — the jaunty rhythm finds a nice fit with the hearty call and response refrain.
Likewise, the gentler entries in the band’s canon also allow for a ready embrace, whether it’s the feel good vibe of Bluebird, the gentle assurance of Where I Belong, or the hallelujah chorus of Devil’s Water. In each case, JigJam exudes enthusiasm while also offering a quiet respite as needed. It’s proof they’re a well-rounded ensemble that can place equal emphasis on mood, melody and instrumental ingenuity. The carefully structured arrangements emphasize drive and determination while encouraging listeners to share in their spirited sojourns.
It’s emphatic and somewhat indulgent, but there’s also allure that casual caress. It’s hard to conceive of a more compelling combination.