DOMINICAN BLACK Abbey, the new six track EP by The Driftwood Manor, is one of the most refreshing and engaging folk releases by an Irish artist in a long time.
Although nominally a band, The Driftwood Manor is Athlone/Galway based singer-songwriter Eddie Keenan, who, on this work, is assisted by Neil Fitzgibbon (violin ), Annemarie Deacy (vocals ), and Bryan Higgins (guitar ).
While there are many great Irish folk songs and individuals who have done great things to keep them alive, there is the problem that we remain stuck with only a repertoire collected from the past with little new material added.
As the great singer Mary McPartlan said: “For the whole traditional industry, it’s time more new songs be composed. The world does not need any more versions of ‘Black Is The Colour’. Nobody should be fearful of writing new songs in the folk idiom and there needs to be new people writing trad songs. This century needs to have something to pass on to the next generation.”
Eddie Keenan is one person rising to that challenge. What makes Keenan’s songwriting so invigorating is that it pays homage to Irish folk’s inventive 1970s era, without stooping to copy it. Rather Keenan seeks to learn from it so he can move forward with his own creativity, in the process producing something both recognisably folk and recognisably his own.
The EP starts with the rolling guitar arpeggios of the title track, and a gentle, sensitive vocal from Eddie but Dominican Black Abbey really starts to reveal itself with ‘I Could Sense A Violent Death’.
Here Eddie’s mellow acoustic guitar figures and vocals are backed by the heavy, feedback drenched, guitar of Higgins (of Galway metal band Rites ), creating a hypnotic effect and an accessible and harmonious mix of acoustic folk with alternative/avant-rock forms. This approach also works well on ‘The Blackest Of Silks’, where Higgins’ guitar work is more psychedelic.
The most pure folk tracks, and the EP’s highlights, are ‘Like Parting With Ghosts’ and the particularly magnificent ‘Trees Shaped By The Wind’. It is here Eddie shows that not only is he steeped in the records of 1970s’ folk, but more importantly he is animated by their creative spirit.
Both songs show the potential he has to stand with more established artists who should also look at covering these songs.
Eddie is a hugely talented singer-songwriter, contributing to the on-going development of the folk tradition in Ireland, and it is these qualities that make Dominican Black Abbey a welcome, perhaps even important, release.
Dominican Black Abbey was produced by Eddie and Keith Wallace. It is out now on the independent Galway label Rusted Rail and can be purchased from rustedrail.com