‘Ten years on’ by Ian Carmichael – “You simply have to hear this music …”(January 11, 2015)
So there you are living in the Highlands of Scotland and you’re enthralled by the music of Earl Scruggs, not easy to find musicians with a similar dream nor to find somewhere to develop the techniques. However, a music shop in Inverness selling banjos, finger picks, books and records by Earl Scruggs plus Bill Monroe, Don Reno, Alan Shelton and Bill Keith set the wheels, or more accurately, the strings in motion. The result is a unique solo album, ‘Ten years on’, from Ian Carmichael that’s imaginative, creative and distinctive. I’m also willing to be that it’s utterly unlike any other banjo album you’ve heard. As Ian points out: “This is a 5-string banjo album. Not a Bluegrass album.” Well, that’s cleared up any confusion.
Forsaking the Highlands for America, Ian invested a couple of years travelling through festivals, meeting and playing with some great bluegrass artists. Even so, a profound and abiding love for Scottish traditional music continued to call and through the Edinburgh traditional scene and the rich environment of Irish music, he developed a style of backing for traditional music and playing both Bluegrass and Old time American music. However: “The 5-string banjo is equally at home on melodies if the natural flow of the instrument is allowed to come through.”
So when you hear a 5-string banjo ripping jigs, reels and hornpipes, and launching into the realms of pipe and fiddle tunes it’s a fair bet Ian Carmichael will be responsible. To be honest, the sheer inventiveness on 'Ten years on' widened my expectations of the banjo. The opening tune ‘Eliza Ross’ combines Scottish and Irish reels, before Ian jumps into the vivacious self-penned ‘Trampolinees’, from there you’re treated to ‘Pipe Set’, which combines three highland pipe tunes. I can almost hear the groans as rabid traditionalists fear their sacred cows being slaughtered! The flood continues with ‘Fiddle Cushion’ incorporating influences from Scotland and America, then on to ‘Irish Reels’ and ‘Hornpipes’, which pretty much tells you what they are, and the majestic ‘6/8 Marches’ – pipe tunes presented like never before.
As it says on the album cover: “... reflects some of the influences on my playing varying from American fiddle tunes, Scottish and Irish traditional tunes to my own compositions. There’s no straight Bluegrass/Old-time, nor is there any backing banjo ...” Joining Ian Carmichael (5-string banjo) on selected tracks across the album are: Tommy Hayes (percussion) Frankie Lane (acoustic guitars, bass guitar, Dobro) Brendan O’Regan (bouzouki, dobro samples, keyboards) Paul O’Driscoll (double bass) Garry O’Brian (guitars) Paul McSherry (guitars) Gary O’Briain (keyboard) and Dermot Byrne (accordions).
I have long championed ‘different over new’ when it comes to original music, ‘Ten years on’delivers both in spades. You simply have to hear this music to appreciate exactly how much this album has to offer. Find Ian Carmichael and ‘Ten years on’ here: www.iancarmichael.net
Reviewer: Tim Carroll