A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
Before actually hearing them, you could be forgiven for thinking the Bumblebees must be lightweight. Their instrumental lineup includes harp, fiddle, mandolin, mandola and banjo. Much of the sound is at the high end, only balanced by piano accordion, aided by an occasional guitar, a rare bass, and some touches of percussion. But in all honesty, there is more substance and depth to this group than there is in many other performers today.
This is the Bumblebees' second release. Although not all the musicians are household names at the moment (that's surely just a matter of time), they have already made their mark in the world of Irish music. Perhaps the best known is fiddler Liz Doherty (Riverdance and Cork University's Fiddlesticks), though the distinctive harp playing of Laoise Kelly has cropped up more than once. Mary Shannon often plays in her sister Sharon's band, and Colette O'Leary is a champion accordionist.
Doherty takes much of the lead work. She has a strong, fluent, rhythmic approach, influenced by Cape Breton playing and reflecting her own Donegal origins. She builds up on the lyrical accordion work of O'Leary, who provides a sound foundation for the group. Color and warmth is added by Shannon's banjo and mandolin, and by Kelly on harp. The latter three musicians each add more instruments, allowing the band to play fiddle duets and trios, for example, and more.
The result is a series of delightful combinations of sounds, airy and light, while remaining full of drive and force. The Bumblebees have developed a successful and unusual mix of regional styles in both playing and repertoire.
The pairing of harp and mandolin on The Ruby Hornpipe set demonstrates this to perfection. O'Leary uses the full range of her harp, adding an intriguing bass line to the chordal accompaniment, while simultaneously echoing the melody. At the same time, Shannon sparkles with the staccato trilling of mandolin as she dances through the tune, shadowed by fiddle and accordion in unison.
This is very much a self-contained album, with only the limited addition of guest players. But mention should be made of Gerry O'Beirne, especially his distinctive slide guitar on the Russ Barenberg tune, Goodbye Eddy Street, a delightful, gamboling piece, which, like the rest of the album, you never want to end.
Although many of the tunes originate in Ireland, they reach to Canada (Cape Breton, Quebec and Prince Edward Island are all featured) and elsewhere for material. And regardless of the sources, they adapt the pieces to their distinctive sound. Here and there, the influences of other genres, from classical to Cajun to Old Timey, are apparent, but their own approach, which mixes these together with their traditional Irish music, stands out creating a compelling album.
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Edited by Roberta B. Schwartz