How it’s New York: You can hear the lads, Dylan Foley, Dan Gurney, Isaac Alderson and Sean Earnest, together and individually around town at many sessions. And some of the tunes on the CD have become NY session standards (hello, “Anthony Frawley’s”).
How it’s Irish: The Yanks play traditional Irish music, filtered through their American sensibilities.
An earlier version of this article was published in Irish Music Magazine, June, 2013.
When I asked Dan Gurney and Dylan Foley if the boys practiced a lot before recording “The Yanks,” they paused.
“We didn’t really practice at all, actually,”
Dan said. Then they laughed.
It’s hard to believe: the seamless integration of Dan’s accordion, Dylan’s fiddle, Sean Earnest’s guitar and bouzouki and Isaac Alderson’s flute and pipes sound as if they’d been playing together, and practicing, for years. They haven’t: a date at Boston’s Club Passim in 2011 was the first time the foursome assembled as a band.
“We wanted to keep the atmosphere fairly loose,”
“We put all the sets together ahead of time, but most of the sets were done between one and two takes.”
The first album for The Yanks is self-titled, although some people have begun calling it “The Four-Faced Liar,” after the West Village pub that serves as background to the boys on the CD jacket. The CD was recorded in a barn in the back of the Blackthorne resort in the Catskills.“We have spent a lot of great nights there over the years,”
“The barn was missing a wall, so we had to build one. We made up a couple of sets in the studio, but everything was live. There are no overdubs, and no editing. It’s all just the way we played it.”
Playing in the Catskills
Dylan said he had been going to Catskills Irish Arts Week since he was 4 years old, participating in the children’s program. By comparison, Dan was a senior citizen when he first went up at age 12. Both boys played with Isaac up there. When they thought of forming a band, they said, they knew they wanted a flutist/piper, and Isaac’s name immediately come to mind. For a bouzouki/guitar player, they thought of Sean Earnest.
CIAW, Dan said, is an
“unbelievable week of music in the mountains, in a town that used to be a vacation town for Irish immigrants in the city. There were 20 or 30 pubs in this little street in the mountains. People come out from Ireland, and from all over the states. It really is one-of-a-kind in the states. I took lessons from Billy McComiskey there, back when I was first starting.”
Although the four kids– at 30, Isaac’s the elder statesman of the group– had not formally played together before, they had played at sessions, and are part of the same New York area vibe. They almost look too young to be sitting at the bar in the picture on the inside of the CD. But while they are young in years, they have ages of experience between them.
Style and substance
Isaac has gone on the road with Eileen Ivers, and has won all-Ireland senior championships on three instruments. Sean Earnest, from Pennsylvania, has played with Téada. Dylan won second in the All-Ireland fiddle in the 2012 Fleadh, and just placed first in the Mid-Atlantic Fleadh for 2013. Dan Gurney is a three-time national U.S. champion on the accordion, and also runs the innovative concert streaming site, Concert Window.
Dan said he always knew he wanted to go into music, since he first saw Solas at The Towne Crier in Pawling, NY, in 1996. He used to go to concerts, run by Father Charlie Coen, at the Rhinecliff hotel, where he would see great musicians like Joanie Madden. Dylan has a similar story: his parents would take him to the concerts there, and put a mat in the corner so he could take a nap.
Lunasa’s Kevin Crawford has called The Yanks “the next Irish-American dream team,” and
“four of the most talented, accomplished and virtuosic musicians of their generation.”
The name they gave themselves reflects that the boys are all Americans playing Irish music.
It also evokes a bsaseball team, the New York Yankees, and that’s deliberate, they said.
“Unfortunately, they got the name first,” Dylan said with a laugh.
The style of their music is a New York style, derived from the musicians who lived in the area during the 1940s and ’50s, such as Michael Coleman and Paddy O’Brien, they said. The music has a certain rhythm, they said, which you can hear in “The Pride of New York” players Joanie Madden, Brian Conway, Billy McComiskey, Brendan Dolan.
I remember hearing “The Pride of New York” in the Catskills, and wondering how to define the New York sound. WFUV’s “A Thousand Welcomes” D.J. Kathleen Biggins said,
Trad and new tunes
Their virtuosic, almost athletic playing, combined with nuanced expression, will sound familiar to those who haunt the Catskills or attend such popular New York sessions as the ones at Lillie’s or the 11th Street Bar. I had to smile when I heard “Anthony Frawley’s” in set number nine: the tune has become a staple in the city recently. Similarly, “The Stack of Barley,” which begins the fourth set, has had a swell of popularity this year.
Putting the CD together highlighted their similarities of approach. Alderson came up with variations, Dan said, and one of Isaac’s own tunes, “Mighty Keith O’Neill,” is in the first of the 16 sets on the CD. It follows “Devanney’s Goat” so smoothly it’s hard to believe it’s original, and anyone who plays will want to learn it at once.
Ed Reavy’s “House of Hamill,” followed by “Miss McDonald’s,” is in the sixth set, which is Dylan’s favorite.
“When we were playing that set at Passim, it felt like that was the one that clicked the most. I thought, let’s definitely do that one again.”
Dan said he has a special feeling for the 16th set, which opens with Martin Hayes’ “Maghera Mountain,” followed by Padd O’Brien’s “Old Road to Garry,” and concludes with ‘Kiss the Maid Behind the Barrel.”
“I like how we all came together on the first tune,”
“We hit the first note of it. Every once in a while, things come together at the right time.”
You could say the same thing about “The Yanks.”