For a town with a deep Irish Catholic heritage — one that persists outside the green-beer bacchanal of St. Patrick's Day — it's not surprising that rich pockets of Irish music and culture exist around St. Louis. Ian Walsh and Kevin Buckley are two young lions of that community; Walsh is in his mid-twenties, Buckley in his early thirties, and both are world-class fiddlers who have competed on national and international stages. So you have to look past the hokey-jokey title of Keeping It Reel and listen for the deep strains of traditional Irish folk music that these two produce on their first outing.
Walsh and Buckley play a selection of traditional reels, a folk form marked by quick eighth-note runs on a lead instrument (here, a fiddle) and bolstered by sharp guitar strokes and light percussion from the bodhrán drum. On Reel and elsewhere, these reels are often grouped together in sets, so one song blends seamlessly into another. Opening track "Mayor Harrison's Fedora, Paddy Fahy's" shows this style in fine form, as the minor mood of the first tune is lifted by the more buoyant melody of the second. The effect is bittersweet, as is the mood of much of this CD. Irish folk music can move from ebullient to wistful to strident, and most of the ten tracks here touch on these (and other) moods in the course of a few minutes.
Those more familiar with Buckley's work as the leader of the indie-rock band Grace Basement will recognize his reedy tenor voice on the few vocal tracks as well as his deft handling of interwoven melodic lines. His lead vocals on the sailing song "Paddy's Green Shamrock Shore" is strong and understated, matching the yearning strains of fiddle and drones. It's easy to relegate this type of music to scene-setting ambiance or consider it a pub soundtrack, but that would be a shame: Buckley and Walsh imbue these traditional songs with too much grace, skill and innate understanding of Irish folk to treat it as mood music.
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