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Damien O’Kane & Ron Block

plus Shirley Grimes and band

“Ron Block and Damien O’Kane have created something I have never heard. Damien’s sense of piston-like drive and Ron’s stately tone and string-bending accuracy mix to create a confluence of the perfect banjo. The other respected musicians dance around them and give them the space to chase, harmonize, or counter each other throughout this experiment. It works. It all works. Listen to it and see if you agree with me” – Jerry Douglas

The humble banjo has long been the brunt of innumerable jokes. So here goes: “What do you get if you cross an American bluegrass banjo and an Irish tenor banjo?” In the case of Coleraine’s Damien O’Kane and California’s Ron Block you get fireworks – and a spectacular debut duo album, released July 2018, that is probably nothing like you could imagine. Banjo players can be almost apologetic about the instrument popularised in America with its origins in West Africa. Block himself has been known to jokingly describe the instrument as the ‘high school chick repellent’. But on either side of the Atlantic O’Kane and Block decided to stop laughing at banjo jokes – and learn how to play one – and how! With two bold and acclaimed recent albums to his name – the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards ‘Best Album’ nominated Areas of High Traffic and last year’s Avenging and Bright, O’Kane thought it was high time to join forces with a musician he had long admired – Alison Krauss & Union Station’s banjo star and multiple award winner Block (no less than 14 Grammy Awards and six International Bluegrass Music Awards to his name for starters).

Widely regarded as two of the greatest exponents of the instrument they have collaborated to create arguably their own genre, something never heard before! Says Damien: “We coined the phrase ‘Banjophony’ meaning the wondrous sounds of the banjo and decided that described the album well. What that means lies within the virtuosity and beauty of the music”. A union of transatlantic cultures, Banjophony melds two different styles and approaches to the banjo to captivating effect. Every note is precise and in exactly the right place, rising and falling with ‘question and answer’ picking and plucking, the light perfectly balanced by the shade – the musicians demonstrating high level connectivity and empathy. The end result is a sparkling rollercoaster record which showcases an instrument that proves incredibly versatile in the right hands – both showy and subtle. The banjo brothers-in-arms are joined by a host of top guests including world renowned fiddle player Stuart Duncan who has performed with artists such as Dolly Parton, Barbra Streisand, Robert Plant and Emmy-Lou Harris. Other stellar guests from the U.S. include mandolin stars Sierra Hull and Sam Bush while on double bass are Barry Bales and Ethan Jodziewicz. From this side of the pond, the star-studded list continues with the inestimable Michael McGoldrick on flute and whistles, Steven Byrnes and David Kosky on guitar throughout, Duncan Lyall on double bass and Moog and Anthony Davis on keyboards.

Banjophony has already got the seal of approval from none other than revered US dobro player Jerry Douglas. He says:

“Ron Block and Damien O’Kane have created something I have never heard Even though these two banjos separated by miles of ocean are related, it has taken two people of common sensibilities to bring them so close. From my own first landing in Ireland, the banjo style I encountered left me spellbound and I just reckoned that’s where it would culminate into what Damien has made it, exact and toneful while still being the driving force it has always served itself to be. I have for many years been an over-served fan of collaboration and this collection brings forth the most pleasant factors an boils them down to a delightful tincture that would please anyone in search of something at the same time beautiful and wild. There are no boundaries here. Damien’s sense of piston-like drive and Ron’s stately tone and string-bending accuracy mix to create a confluence of the perfect banjo. Damien is the perfect foil to draw him out with a left hook now and then before they both settle in for a series of notes perfectly carved into a statement…”

Life-affirming, uplifting, this is a carefully cultivated collection - not music for the sake of it. More to the point they have succeeded in making two banjos subtle, awe-inspiring and majestic, so no apologies or jokes here - just listen and believe!

"TOP OF THE WORLD ALBUMS" **** Songlines Magazine October 2018

"ALBUM OF THE MONTH" – The Guardian, July 2018

“I was utterly blown away by these guys. Exquisite musicianship. My gig of the year.” – Ralph McTell

“Beautiful and wild, there are no boundaries here. Something I have never heard before” – Jerry Douglas

“Both incredibly acclaimed musicians in their own right.” – Mark Radcliffe BBC RADIO 2

"An album of incredibly captivating music’"– FOLK RADIO UK

“Banjophony is the sound of summer…two master musicians” – Kate Rusby

***** - Spiral Earth

"A proud, stand-tall album of banjo music" – Irish Music Magazine