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MIXTAPE: JigJam’s Irish Bluegrass

Apr 22, 2024

MIXTAPE: JigJam's Irish Bluegrass

We all grew up in rural Ireland in small communities in the midlands around County Offaly and County Tipperary. From a young age we were brought up with traditional Irish music, learning the tunes and playing in local sessions. Bluegrass was never a part of our musical upbringing, however, little did we know how strong the relationship between Irish and bluegrass music is. Our band JigJam was formed in 2012 and over the years we developed a sound which captures the crossover between these musical genres.

The creation of bluegrass music and its development over the years is heavily influenced by Irish music. When the Irish people emigrated to North America years ago they brought their music and culture with them, which you can hear within bluegrass music from tunes, melodies, and songs.

We released our new album, Across The Pond, on March 1st of this year. The theme of Across the Pond is to creatively celebrate the deep connection between Ireland and North America through newly composed material that is a dynamic fusion of bluegrass, old-time, and Irish traditional music. By also including traditional tunes and songs which are popular amongst the people from both Irish and American traditions, we added their voice to this transatlantic conversation. This album has been inspired and composed on themes of immigration, nostalgia, cultural difference, and cultural amalgamation. It views the immigrant experience through the lens of pre-immigration, the journey of immigration itself, and their lives upon having settled in North America.

This is our Irish Bluegrass Mixtape, hope you all enjoy! – JigJam

“Good Ole Mountain Dew” – JigJam

Here’s our version of the bluegrass standard, “Mountain Dew,” that we put our own spin on. There’s a similar Irish song called, “The Rare Old Mountain Dew.” It’s about the same subject – “Good Old Mountain Dew” is obviously about moonshine. What we call the “mountain dew” at home is poitin, which is Irish moonshine.

We took some of the lyrics of that song and put it into our version and also wrote our own lyrics based on where we come from. We took the instrumental tune from “Rare Old Mountain Dew” and put it in “Good Old Mountain Dew” while also adding in a bit of Irish lilting. It’s a mashup of both cultures in one song!

“Classical Grass” – Gerry O’Connor

When I was young and first learning how to play the tenor banjo one of my musical heroes was Gerry O’Connor. I was always mesmerized by the speed and precision of his banjo playing. The first time I saw him in concert was at a banjo festival in Ireland called Johnny Keenan Banjo Festival. He was sharing the bill with Earl Scruggs and his band. As a 12-year-old Irish boy, I had no idea who Earl Scruggs was at the time. Little did I know the influence he (Earl Scruggs) would have on my music and JigJam’s music in years to come, when we discovered what bluegrass was and where it came from!! In this track from Gerry, he shows his bluegrass influence himself with pristine crosspicking along with his renowned clean triplets, which was always a favourite of mine growing up.

“Colleen Malone” – Hot Rize

“Colleen Malone” is one of our favorite songs that Hot Rize recorded. Here’s a great live version from their Hot Rize’s 40th Anniversary Bash album. A lovely song co-written by Leroy Drumm and Pete Goble about an Irish girl, Colleen Malone.

“Tennessee Stud” – The Chieftains

In many ways The Chieftains paved the way for Irish bands touring in America and that is something for which we’ll always be incredibly grateful. Their album, Down The Old Plank Road: The Nashville Sessions, paints a vivid picture of the crossover between between the Irish and American music traditions.

“B/C Set” – Beoga

Beoga are an Irish trad band who we all listened to as kids growing up. They were known for thinking outside the box and being ahead of their time as regards arrangements. The second tune in this set is “Daley’s Reel,” which I only realized in recent years when I heard some of the great bluegrass players like Bryan Sutton and Aubrey Haynie playing it. Beoga have a very unique version of “Daley’s Reel,” played on two button accordions and accompanied by piano, bodhrán, and even brass near the end of the track. Certainly a fun one to listen to!

“Streets of London” – Tony Rice

This is one of my favourite songs sung by Tony Rice. “The Streets of London” is a very popular song in Ireland and has been covered by many Irish artists. Written by English songwriter Ralph McTell, I learned this song from the playing of the great Liam Clancy of The Clancy Brothers, Irish powerhouses. I only heard Tony Rice’s version in recent years when I delved into bluegrass guitar playing and I loved it straight away. Tony Rice’s rendition is beautiful as he incorporates his flawless bluegrass crosspicking and signature approach to this classic.

(Editor’s Note: Watch JigJam guitarist Jamie McKeogh perform “Streets of London” for a recent Yamaha Session here.)

“Water’s Hill” – JigJam

“Water’s Hill” is a song off our new album, Across The Pond. The lyrics were written by Ken Molloy as he tells the story of a couple falling in love together and marrying on water’s hill, a mound near Tullamore in County Offaly. The music is by Jamie McKeogh and Daithi Melia along with an old traditional Irish reel that is incorporated into the middle of the song. “Water’s Hill” features a driving Scruggs-style 5-string banjo part along with a strong mandolin backbeat, fiddle counter melodies, and rhythmic acoustic guitar which creates the JigJam sound, capturing the crossover between Irish and bluegrass music.

“Forty Shades of Green” – Rosanne Cash and Paul Brady, Transatlantic Sessions

The Transatlantic Sessions is an amazing platform for the collaboration of Irish and bluegrass musicians. With the likes of Jerry Douglas, Aly Bain, Mike McGoldrick, and many more, this project has wonderfully captured Irish and bluegrass crossover for years. I could have chosen many songs from their repertoire, but I went with this one. It’s “Forty Shades of Green” from the legend that is Johnny Cash. Here, it’s being sung by his daughter Rosanne and Irish singer-songwriter Paul Brady, backed up by the Transatlantic band.

“Sally Goodin / The Blackberry Blossom” – Gerry O’Connor

Gerry O’Connor from Co. Tipperary is the reason I began to play the tenor banjo and he has always been a musical hero of mine – his music still inspires me to this day. This set showcases his skill set, pickin’ on these classic bluegrass fiddle tunes.

“Battersea Skillet Liquor” – Damian O’Kane, Ron Block

One of my favorite tracks off one of my favorite albums. I always loved the groove in this track and of course the playing from this star-studded crew of players always leaves me feeling inspired.

“Bouli Bouli” – JigJam

This set combines the traditional Irish jig, “The Miller of Glanmire,” with the bluegrass fiddle tune, “Big Mon.” It showcases the dynamic and genre fluid nature of JigJam through seamlessly traversing both traditions while highlighting each instrument’s capabilities. We’ve been having a lot of fun playing this one live!

“On Raglan Road” – Dervish & Vince Gill

I always enjoyed this song being performed by the great Luke Kelly from The Dubliners and recently came across this beautiful version of Patrick Kavanagh’s “On Raglan Road” by the legendary Dervish featuring the iconic vocals of Vince Gill.

“The Stride Set” – Solas

I love this set by Solas from their album, The Words That Remain. We are influenced by their creative way of arranging Irish tune sets. I love the addition of the 5-string banjo featured on this track.

“Did You Ever Go A-Courtin’, Uncle Joe” – The Chieftains

Here’s a mighty set from The Chieftains’ live album, Another Country. The crossover between Irish and American genres is great here with a medley of American songs and Irish tunes and also featuring a 5-string banjo. With a great lineup of The Chieftains with Chet Atkins, Emmylou Harris, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Ricky Skaggs.

“County Clare” – New Grass Revival

New Grass Revival are one of our biggest influences as a band. Béla Fleck is one of the reasons why I fell in love with the 5-string banjo and started to learn ‘Scruggs style’ while delving into the bluegrass world. Here’s his great instrumental “County Clare,” which Béla wrote inspired by his time spent in Ireland.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

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MIXTAPE: JigJam's Irish Bluegrass
MIXTAPE: JigJam's Irish Bluegrass