The new album from Ireland-based oldtime outfit Grits & Gravy, their first release, is jam-packed with a passel of high-octane traditional American fiddle tunes and songs. The music on this record shines like a mirror, reflecting our American music back to us across the Atlantic with an authentic patina that belies the Old World roots of the Appalachian fiddle tradition. Myself, I haven’t been to Ireland in many years, but just based on how many times Foghorn Stringband has toured over there, it seems that the Irish have a discerning ear for the good stuff, and some solid Irish oldtime bands have sprung to life in recent years… witness Grits & Gravy.
The centerpiece of the G&G sound is the epic twin fiddles of Ian Knepper and Cáolan Keogh, with the support of Ben Keogh (banjo) Camilla Monroe (guitar) and Síona Knepper (double bass). The band doesn’t plough any new ground here, but they don’t need to. For that’s not what American oldtime music is all about. The modern oldtime scene is all about social gatherings at festivals or pubs or kitchens, where fiddle and banjo players sit knee-to-knee until the wee hours and jam out old melodies from the hills that have been handed down for generations. They speak to one another in a unique language and say things that can be said in no other way. They connect to an older world and a simpler time and to the fiddlers who came before.
The Irish know all about the session tradition. They invented it, for Chrissakes. But the fact that they play our music as well as we can? That’s a pleasant surprise.
LISTEN: Boys Them Buzzards Are Flying
LISTEN: I Never Will Marry