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We Banjo 3

String Theory – 2016 (Wb3)

Reviewed by Kevin Oliver

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CDs by We Banjo 3

Over four albums and various tours and festival appearances, Galway, Ireland quartet We Banjo 3 have cultivated a reputation as a unique, energetic live ensemble. The challenge with a group that's lauded for live performance is typically the transference of those qualities to a recording studio setting without losing the original, in person appeal.

On the group's latest, there is a trade-off and a progression from those incendiary stage moments to a more measured approach that showcases instrumental virtuosity, but also reveals its more thoughtful side. About evenly divided between original compositions and banjo-fied versions of traditional tunes, the songs range from the gentle story-song opening of "This Is Home" to a rousing rendition of the familiar chesnut "Little Liza Jane."

The origin of the group's name came from an initial lineup with three banjo players; while they have moved on to more diverse instrumentation over the years, there is still plenty of picking to be found, albeit of a less traditional style. "Aunt Jemima's Plaster," for one, combines fiddle and banjo lines in unconventional, ancient-sounding ways while wandering in and out of an Irish jig pattern.

"Two Sisters" exemplifies this grasp of the old and new with a traditional ballad feel yet a timeless subject matter that contains all the love and jealousy of a tragic Hollywood family epic, set to beautiful vocal harmony.

There are numerous outfits treading the not-so-traditional paths of modern bluegrass and folk music, but few can claim the direct lineage of Irish origin that comes with the members of We Banjo 3, who in addition to their own touring schedule are also in demand as session players with major artists in multiple genres. This set of songs shows their ability to come up with material that's worth listening to - even if it's not at one of their live concerts.