Ireland’s exceptional We Banjo 3 have carved out a unique niche for themselves, courtesy of the fusion of styles they fondly refer to as “Celtgrass,” an astute combination of bluegrass, Celtic music, folk sounds, and both new and old world traditions. Their name may offer the impression that banjo music is all they do, but fiddle, guitar, and mandolin add extra elements as well.
Consisting of two sets of siblings — brothers Edna Schahil (tenor banjo, vocals) and Fergal Scahil (fiddle, viola, dobro, percussion, guitar, mandolin, vocals) and brothers Martin Howley (tenor banjo, mandolin, vocals) and David Howley (lead vocals, guitar) — We Banjo 3 have rightly been the recipients of all sorts of honors, among them, the #1 position in Billboard’s World Music charts, high praise from IMOR (the Irish Music Rights Organization), and the distinction of providing the entertainment for the annual Friends of Ireland luncheon on Capitol Hill.
More importantly however, the group has amassed a devoted fan following, one that makes itself heard on their spectacular new LP, Roots to Rise Live, a concert recording that offers an ideal summation of all their strengths. Recorded at The Ark in Ann Arbor Michigan this past February, it emphasizes the energy and exuberance that only a live recording can effectively capture, even as it encapsulates all the elements that make this band so exceptional.
That’s evident early on with the rousing reception given the band’s upbeat introduction, Shine On, and, in fact, all the tracks that follow, most of which find the crowd clapping along and sharing their enthusiasm. The upbeat and effusive Little Lisa Jane, Tell Me Why and Prettiest Little Girl are alone enough to ensure the revelry remains intact, but the jolly delivery of Wynnes, the rugged determination of This Is Home and the stirring sound of Annabelle’s Cannon add to the enjoyment and make for a merry mood throughout.
That said, there are moments of respite as well. The pleasant pluck of fiddle and banjo on Puncheon Floor crest into a crescendo, while the sweet serenade of Marry Me Monday provides the proceedings with a decided ebb and flow. Likewise, the balance between traditional tunes and original offerings offer enough variation and vitality to keep the audience entertained and involved.
Ultimately, Roots to Rise Live is, as its name implies, the best showcase yet for this extraordinary ensemble. Newcomers are best advised to begin here, while fans and followers ought to consider this effort one that’s clearly compulsory.