Album Review: We Banjo 3’s ‘String Theory’

by James Fleming

“Great simplicity is only won through an intense moment or by years of intelligent effort.”

-T.S. Eliot.

There’s an art to simplicity. Three chords have brought an awful lot of people an awful long way, because, great simplicity is one of the true beauties of this planet.

Whether you’re AC/DC, Bob Dylan or U2, the power of simplicity cannot be underestimated.

We Banjo 3 understand this. They have taken those tried and tested chords and strummed, picked and twisted them in a way that only they can.

Individuality is not, nor has it ever been, a commodity. The illusion of individuality has, of course, been packaged and sold, then even reissued, many times over. And it will continue to do so.

We Banjo 3 sound like no one other than themselves, for better or for worse. They play in their own individual styles and those styles meld together in a truly stunning way.

From David Howley’s percussive acoustic guitar style and muscular voice, to the fleet fingered banjo pickings of the brothers Scahill and Martin Howley. We Banjo 3 have breathed fresh life into Irish traditional music and bluegrass, two centuries old styles. No mean feat.

The tunes on String Theory display the band’s musical prowess brilliantly. They prove themselves to be worthy adapters of other people’s music as well as excellent composers in their own right, ‘Good Time Old Time,’ hammers that point home. Subtly. Yes, it hammers it home… subtly.

You see, it’s the nuances in the playing that bring these tunes to life. Just the odd note here and there that no one else would have thought to put in that particular place. Or a slide from one note to the next that catches the ear and sets the fingers drumming.

However, there is such a thing as too simple.

The lyrics on String Theory let the side down. They can almost be forgiven for the sheer quality of the songs as a whole, alas however, they’re pretty dire.

The track ‘Happiness,’ (which, it should be noted, wasn’t written by the band) stands out as one of the most heinous culprits. While there is nothing wrong with the sentiment, essentially that happiness is never too far away, it’s the words used to deliver the sentiment that are trite.

‘Little Liza Jane,’ suffers equally from the same problem. Instead of doing something new and interesting with the format, the band conform to the bluegrass norm by repeating lines three times for a verse and tossing a fourth in there in lieu of a chorus. Hence: trite.

Under general circumstances, lyrics can be disregarded and the melody adopted as the hook, with the words merely the medium through which the hook is carried. But, when the lyrics are terrific, they add to one’s enjoyment of a piece of music. Likewise, when the lyrics are as bad as they are on String Theory, they cannot be set aside.

Which is a shame, a damn shame in fact. Seeing as how the songs are clearly very well crafted, with great time, care and creativity put in to honing them. They’re formidable musicians, if they got their hands on a couple of decent poetry books, they’d be flying.

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