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Areas of High Traffic: Released November 9, 2015
2016 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Nominee for ‘Best Album’
‘Best Album from a Male Artist 2015’ - Folkwords
Top 10 CDs of 2015 – Sunday Express
‘As magnificent a re-imagining of traditional folk as you are likely to hear.’
‘Could well become a crossover commercial success’ - Guardian
‘A really class piece of work. A rich and innovative sonic palette.’- Mark Radcliffe, BBC Radio 2 & 6
"Areas Of High Traffic is an extraordinary album. But then, Damien O'Kane is an extraordinary musician...a provocatively original interpreter of folk song." - Colin Irwin (Q Mag/Mojo)
You may think you know the music of Damien O’Kane but think again - his inspirational new album will certainly leave you wondering.
With a pervading theme of emigration and homeland nostalgia, Areas of High Traffic is the first solo album in five years from the Yorkshire-based Ulsterman, following on from Summer Hill (2010).
O’Kane is a musician of many talents. He’s a singer with a hypnotic, resonant lilt - a relaxed, assured vocal style that exudes a natural warmth and empathy with the colourful characters who occupy his songs.
He’s also an outstanding banjo player. And a superb guitarist. And an ingenious arranger. Not to mention an accomplished tunemaker, researcher, bandleader and accompanist of rich imagination and fearless vision.
O’Kane began his career touring and trekking around the globe with his family band. Steeped in music, passed on through his parents, Damien grew up in Coleraine, Northern Ireland, with a deep respect and understanding of the folk tradition, yet which also forged a healthy appetite to explore its broadest borders and test its boundaries. All of which has culminated in his brilliant 2015 solo album ‘Areas Of High Traffic’ which, apart from proving he scrubs up well for a cover photo, takes some of the greatest songs in the folk canon – ‘The Blacksmith’, ‘The Banks Of The Bann’, ‘I Am A Youth’ and ‘The Green Fields Of America’ included – and reinvents them in refreshingly original ways.
Having moved to England in 2001 to complete a 4-year degree in Traditional Folk Music at University of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, it was there that he began the rest of his musical journey. He started performing with Newcastle based Shona Kipling, an all-Ireland accordion champion, who decided to enter the BBC’s Young Folk Award competition and asked Damien if he’d accompany her. In the event he was too old to enter, but he and Shona formed a musical partnership anyway. They made their first album together ‘Pure Chance’ in 2003, followed by ‘Box On’ in 2007, which got them radio play, regular gigs and a nomination for the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards for the ‘Horizon Award.’ Now a vital member of The Kate Rusby Band, Damien’s other previous incarnations have included his time as a member of Anglo-Irish band Flook, as well as the release of an instrumental album with David Kosky, winning Instrumental Album Of The Year 2012 at Spiral Earth Awards.
However, extraordinary and unexpected after what went before, Areas of High Traffic sees O’Kane throwing in a number of curved balls, aided and abetted by his fine band - Steven Iveson (electric guitars), Anthony Davis (keyboards, synths, pads), stand-out percussionist Cormac Byrne, a guest appearance on one track by American bluegrass banjo wizard Ron Block (Alison Krauss and Union Station) and guest Backing Vocals from Barnsley songstress Kate Rusby.
Slickly produced by O’Kane and assisted by Joe Rusby, it is something of a homage to his native Northern Ireland. O’Kane cherry picks traditional songs, moulding them into something more contemporary, engaging and stirring - all delivered in his rich Irish brogue.
Growing up in Coleraine his first stage appearance when barely a teenager was with his aforementioned own parents and siblings in the family band, dubbed “The Von Trapps of Coleraine”.
On Areas of High Traffic he takes songs from the bedrock of Irish music and revisits them in a previously untapped, unconventional but always empathetic way. Says Damien: “Songs like The Blacksmith and I Am a Youth are so iconic I’ve avoided them like the plague. But I’ve always loved them and I decided I had to overcome this fear of the ‘don’t touch’ songs. Singing them takes me back home.” The end result is radically original. “I decided I wouldn’t set any boundaries and I’d perform the songs exactly as felt right. There may be a touch of rebellion about it but I haven’t done anything just for the sake of being different. I’ve tried to get inside every song and the arrangements reflect the lyrics.”
And when all the pieces are fitted together with unconditional love, care and attention to detail, the results are spectacular. The songs on 'Areas of High Traffic' are largely rooted in his homeland in the north of Ireland and several have long become part of the furniture and recorded many times throughout the years. But never like this.
With perfect harmony vocals from Kate Rusby and a brand new tune he definitely puts his own stamp on the famous The Banks of the Bann. Elsewhere the mix of jazz, rock and world influences triggers a whole new sound to songs like Erin’s Lovely Home and The Close of an Irish Day whilst The Green Fields of America addresses Ireland’s sad history of enforced emigration.
This theme continues in the one contemporary song on the 11-track album - Robin Williams and Jerome Clark’s poignant Don’t Let Me Come Home a Stranger, a song which proves a perfect fit for O’Kane.
Damien himself has penned two beautiful tunes to people in his life – The Goddaughter Part 1 and the exquisite Interlude for Mama.
Released on the Pure Records label on November 9, Areas of High Traffic is traditional Irish folk for grown-ups – a roller-coaster of exploration into the heart and heritage of Irish music, shaken and stirred by a master musician and vocalist. You have a thoughtful, provocative, uplifting and inspirational collection which surely marks O'Kane's emergence as one of the most vital talents in modern folk music.
‘Irish Music that is Folk-Pop for the 21st Century.’ -The Telegraph
‘Areas Of High Traffic should be filed under groundbreaking.’ – fROOTS Magazine
See more info at damienokane.co.uk
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