Irish music as a genre tends to conjure images of dozens of step dancers clopping on stage in unison with curls bouncing, or dashing jigs and reels perfect for a night of revelry, or moody ballads with a thousand verses, or drunken sing-alongs with choruses full of nonsense words. A layperson might assume that Irish music doesn’t necessitate nuance beyond perhaps the melodramatic story songs, but that assumption does an incredible disservice to the depth and breadth of emotion and detail that runs through Ireland’s vernacular music.
Alfi, a string band equally comfortable with Irish traditional material and American old-time, demonstrate the stunning, understated beauty of this nuance on their rendering of “Farewell to Trion,” an old-time tune from the U.S. side of the pond. The tempo is relaxed, the reharmonizations are modern, yet timeless, and the form rolls by a handful of times without ever becoming stale or boring — a remarkable feat. Beneath the surface of banjo (Ryan McAuley) and whistle (Fiachra Meek), artfully teasing the melody at its edges, are the hands of Alannah Thornburgh on harp, not only plucking along with the tune, but comping as deftly and expertly as any firecracker Irish rhythm guitarist, morphing the standard chord progression at her will and whimsy. “Farewell to Trion” is worth a second and third listen if only to train our ears and brain to focus in on the mind-blowing magic happening at the fingertips of Thornburgh’s left hand. Here, it’s pretty clear to see that there’s much more to Irish music than just pomp, showmanship, drinking songs, and curly wigs. And there’s beauty to love in all of the above.