Damien O’Kane – Avenging and Bright

Album Review | Pure Records | Review by Phil Carter | Stars: 5/5

Following on from 2015’s hugely successful Areas of High Traffic, Damien O’Kane returns with his much anticipated third solo offering Avenging and Bright.  The artwork on the new album suggests a continuation of the sartorial theme that adorned the cover of his previous album, with the then sharp suited and close barbered O’Kane now more sworded, bearded and booted and with an appearance not unlike a lead character from Game of Thrones.  The theme of the artwork is inspired by the title song of the album Avenging and Bright, Thomas Moore’s 19th Century poem based on the story The Three Sons of Usnach.  Hard to believe it’s been seven years since the first solo outing Summer Hill but throughout the course of the three albums, the basic formula of traditional and contemporary songs reinterpreted in new and musically exciting settings has understandably remained unchanged.  O’Kane’s  refreshingly unique style and his ability to reinvent great folk songs with pin sharp production and stellar musicianship reaches even greater heights on Avenging and Bright, and this is most certainly not a slow-burner album.  From the opening track Boston City through to the infectious self-penned instrumental “Dancing in Puddles” the music draws up an eclectic canvas of sounds and themes that are immediately accessible and sufficiently varied in structure and depth to keep you hooked.  The engine room of the Damien O’Kane band comprises of the ever present Steven Byrnes and Steven Iveson on guitars, Josh Clarke on percussion and Anthony Davis on keyboards.  Separate guest appearances by the banjo master that is Ron Block (Alison Krauss Band) and the lady of the house Kate Rusby provide some lovely embellishments to the songs “Boston City” and “Lately” respectively, with Ron popping in again for a duet with Damien on “Dancing in Puddles”.  Production wise, the album is a far from being a raw and sparse offering to the point of possessing an almost clinical sound.  But I ask you, has there ever been a Pure Records release that has suffered from poor production, of course not and this album is definitely no exception with a weak track not anywhere to be found.  Avenging and Bright is a truly accomplished album that puts the top hat on a creatively exhausting year for Damien O’Kane that also saw him take in an extensive spring and summer tour schedule with his band, as well as completing work on two the Kate Rusby albums of the past twelve months and not forgetting the now customary Christmas tour schedule.  Not bad for a wee lad with a banjo from Coleraine.