The Galway Irish-Americana quartet We Banjo 3 returns to the Boston area this month with a show on Feb. 9 in the Somerville Theater at 8 p.m. “WB3” consists of two pairs of brothers, Enda (tenor banjo) and Fergal Scahill (fiddle, bodhran) and David (guitar, lead vocals) and Martin Howley (mandolin, tenor banjo), who are widely acknowledged as the originators of “Celtgrass,” a mix of Irish and American folk sounds that are inspired by tradition while embracing modern styles. Their honors include RTÉ Radio 1 Best Folk Album, Irish Times Trad Album of the Year, LiveIreland.com Best New Group of the Year and Irish American News Concert of the Year, as well as a no. 1 ranking in bluegrass by USA Billboard. WB3’s most recent album, “Haven,” saw the band continue a trend toward emphasizing its own compositions.
David Howley recently offered some thoughts on WB3’s return to Boston and other subjects.
Q. David, it was four years ago that you guys made your debut in Boston, at sadly-departed Johnny D’s. What impressions have you formed of the area?
A. We form our opinions of places by the shows we’ve had there, and in that respect Boston has been really good to us: There’s a great energy in the crowds and people are up for some fun. We expect this show will be no different. Boston folk know how to party and we’re ready to bring the banjo!
Q. Over the last couple of albums, and especially on “Haven,” WB3 has focused more on original material, often with an acoustic-pop feel, as opposed to trad tunes/songs or covers of more contemporary stuff (e.g. “Long Black Veil,” “Happiness,” “Ain’t Nobody Else Like You”). What prompted the band to move in this direction?
A. We’ve been working on original music for years now. “Haven” was special because it was the culmination of our collective creativity. Each song went through a painful pulling apart and putting back together with a WB3 feel. I don’t think we ever knowingly changed directions – it was just what naturally came out.
Q. A couple of the newer songs also express a concern for contemporary social issues, like mental health awareness (“Don’t Let Me Down”) and the plight of immigrants and migrants (“Light in the Sky”). Was this a big step for you as songwriters?
A. Mental health has been a big part of my life, personally. Another songwriter once told me to “write about what you know,” so that’s where “Don’t Let Me Down” sprung from. It would be hard to find someone who hasn’t been impacted by mental health issues in their life somewhere. For too long, we all fight alone in the shadows. We wanted to bring attention to it but from a positive perspective, and show that there is always light somewhere.
But “Haven” runs deeper than just mental health and immigration: It’s a space for people to lay down their armor for a couple hours and feel a part of something. We wanted to create a space for all people, an inclusive and welcoming place. We’re all only human, after all.
Q. Another recent development for WB3 has been using brass on some tracks. How and when did the inspiration for this come about?
A. We’ve loved the sounds of brass in folk music for years, from bands like La Bottine Souriante to even the early days of Mumford and Sons. Brass adds such deep power. We work with an amazing trio out of New York called The Huntertones Horns – they just get the music and fit so perfectly with the Celtgrass style. We try to continually come up with new ideas and sounds to bring to our fans. We’re eventually working up to Coldplay-style stage rigging, but I’d say we’re a few years off.
Q. Your recently released video for “Don’t Let Me Down” features a bravura performance by “Soky the Sock Monster.” Do you foresee a larger role for Soky in the band – kind of like a “Fifth Beatle” thing?
A. Soky is a humdinger on the banjo. If Enda needs a break from touring, he’ll rest easy knowing the sock monster is ready to shred!
Tickets for the We Banjo 3 show, sponsored through World Music/CRASH Arts, are available at worldmusic.org/content/event_page/7281.
• The Burren Backroom series in Davis Square will feature three Irish/Celtic events later in the month, beginning Feb. 20 at 7:30 p.m. with MAC, a trio of American musicians that is well-versed in Scottish, Irish, and other Celtic traditions while guided by other influences, from Americana to classical to rock, in their writing and playing. Driving the melody are Ryan McKasson, a former National Scottish Fiddle Champion, and Elias Alexander (bagpipes, percussion, harmonium, vocals), known locally for his work with The Bywater Band and Soulsha, supported by Colin Cotter (guitar, harmonium, vocals), who draws on numerous folk/world styles for his singing and songwriting.
The duo of Robbie O’Connell and Rose Clancy will perform a 4 p.m. matinee in the Backroom on Feb. 24. Waterford-born and Tipperary-raised, O’Connell is one of the best-known Celtic/folk singer-songwriters, and many of his songs – like “Kilkelly,” “There Were Roses,” “Keg of Brandy” and “You’re Not Irish” – have become staples of the Irish/Celtic music scene. Clancy is a Cape Cod-based fiddler and violin-maker, impresario of the Chatham Fiddle Company, where she often hosts performances by leading Celtic artists.
Two of the most active, high-profile performers in the Cape Breton tradition, Andrea Beaton and Troy McGillivray, come to the Backroom on Feb. 27 at 7:30 p.m. Equally proficient on fiddle and piano, both Beaton and McGillivray each also boast an impressive family musical heritage and an impressive discography. Beaton’s first CD, “License to Drive ’Er,” earned her a nomination as Roots Traditional Solo Artist of the Year at the East Coast Music Awards (ECMA), and her follow-up release “Cuts” was nominated for the 2005 ECMA Instrumental Recording of the Year. She’s also released “Little Black Book,” an album of original instrumental compositions. McGillivray also received ECMA nominations for his first two recordings, “Boomerang” and “Musical Ties,” as well as Music Industry Association of Nova Scotia nominations. Another recording project, “When Here Meets There,” featured a unique collaboration with Canadian and US National Fiddle Champion Shane Cook, while his most recent album, “Tune Poets”, weaves some of his own compositions alongside unique arrangements of great composers from the traditional fiddle world.
Go to burren.com for Burren Backroom tickets and information.
• In addition to Cherish the Ladies [see separate story], City Winery is hosting another Celtic act this month: Canada’s Enter the Haggis, on Feb. 2 at 8 p.m. For more than two decades, the band (Craig Downie, bagpipes, guitar, keyboards, whistle; Brian Buchanan, fiddle, guitar, mandolin, accordion; Trevor Lewington, guitar, mandolin, keyboards; Mark Abraham, bass, banjo; and Bruce McCarthy, drums) has brought together a prodigious – even quirky – blend of rock, fusion, bluegrass, traditional Celtic fare, agitpop, folk, and other strains. From head-banging, arena-friendly Celtic rock to more nuanced, lyrical, indie-type offerings, “ETH” combines a versatile repertoire with sociopolitical conviction.
More at citywinery.com/boston.
• Boston College’s Gaelic Roots series will present singer-musician Nóirín Ní Riain and her sons Owen and Moley Ó Súilleabháin on Feb. 7 at 6:30 p.m. in the Theology and Ministry Library on BC’s Brighton Campus. Ní Riain, who as a visiting faculty member at BC in 1990 was part of an effort to establish Irish music as a presence at the university, is an authority on Celtic music as well as sacred and spiritual songs from across the ages. One of her most famous collaborations was a trio of recordings with the Benedictine monks of Glenstal Abbey, and she’s also performed with artists such as Sinead O’Connor, John Cage and Paul Winter.
Information on Gaelic Roots events, which are free, is available via the BC Center for Irish Programs website at www.bc.edu/irish.
• On Feb. 23, the Canadian American Club of New England, at 202 Arlington St. in Watertown, hosts a performance by the duo of Fiachra O’Regan and Sophie Lavoie from 8-11 p.m. Their partnership blends two seemingly disparate traditions, Gaelic and French, through O’Regan’s uilleann pipes and tenor banjo alongside Lavoie’s Quebecois fiddle and vocals. A Connemara native, O’Regan is a former All-Ireland champion on pipes and whistle who has collaborated with a number of prominent musicians, including The Chieftains and Paddy Keenan. Lavoie has been part of various Quebecois bands, and is researching the fiddle style and repertoire of her native region, Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, as part of her master’s degree in ethnomusicology. Their third album, “Un Canadien Errant,” was nominated for Best Album of the Year at both ADISQ and Canadian Folk Music Award in 2016.
Go to canadianamericanclub.com for ticket information and other details.
• Boston College Irish Dance will give its annual performance at the university’s Robsham Theater on Feb. 22 and 23 at 7 p.m. BCID, which is comprised of undergraduate students, presents both traditional and original Irish dance choreography. For links to tickets, see the Robsham web site at www.bc.edu/robsham.
•The Boston area’s annual feast of Scottish fiddle music, the Pure Dead Brilliant Fiddle Concert, will take place on Feb. 14 at 8 p.m. in the Log Cabin Chapel at Grotonwood (167 Prescott St., Groton). Along with current or former local and New England musicians Hanneke Cassel, Katie McNally, Neil Pearlman, Eamon Sefton, Laura Risk, Keith Murphy and Jenna Moynihan, “PDBF” will feature special guests: the trio MAC, who are also playing in the Burren Backroom series [see above]; and Grammy-nominated fiddler Jeremy Kittel. His style marked by a fusion of Celtic, American, and jazz elements, Kittel has worked with a wide range of artists, including local American Scottish fiddler Hanneke Cassel, Boston native singer-songwriter Aoife O’Donovan, and celebrated cellist Yo Yo Ma; he also was a member of the Grammy-winning quartet Turtle Island.
Tickets and other details available at pdbconcert.brownpapertickets.com.