Through the Round Window, the solo debut of renowned tenor banjo player Éamonn Coyne, is a rare achievement. Using his masterful technique as a foundation, Coyne builds a musical bridge between the traditional Irish sounds of his upbringing and his other, more international influences. The high esteem Coyne commands in Irish music circles is reflected in the clarity, precision, and impeccable timing of each note he plays. Wherever his vast musical imagination takes him, the power and resonance of his ingrained heritage shines through. The result is a remarkable album that explores new terrain for the Irish tenor banjo while radiating the warmth and integrity of a centuries-old musical lineage.
“Over the years,” Coyne explains, “I have been lucky enough to experience lots of different types of music. I wanted to record a CD to explore some of these influences on my playing. Through the Round Window comes from the music of these different sources passing from me through the main instrument I play, the Irish tenor banjo – whether it be Donegal fiddle music, Irish box and flute playing, or old-timey American fiddle and banjo tunes.”
Channeling Coyne’s eclectic tastes through his own virtuosity on the tenor banjo lends Through the Round Window a freshness that never sounds incongruent – even at its most far-reaching. On the more traditional side are “Whistling Reels,” a set recorded with flautist Michael McGoldrick, “Mazurka & Jigs,” which combines a Donegal-styled mazurka with a pair of jigs, and the languid “Tommy & Jerry,” which ingeniously blends tunes from Tommy Peoples (in a highland style) and two Cape Breton tunes from Jerry Holland.
Careful sequencing allows Through the Round Window to unfold gracefully, the more adventurous excursions beautifully balanced by the invigoratingly executed traditional fare. One of the threads unifying Through the Round Window is the interrelation between different cultures. Nowhere is that give-and-take better demonstrated than on “Nine String Susannah,” a trio of American old-tyme fiddle tunes played as a duet with Grammy-winning 5-string banjoist Alison Brown. Kevin Doherty, of the acclaimed eclectic Celtic band Four Men and a Dog, contributes two original compositions that combine the soulfulness of classic balladry with a contemporary edge.
All of the performances on Through the Round Window sparkle with empathy and audible camaraderie between the players. “That’s because this CD has come together thanks to the great friends I have,” Éamonn Coyne says with a smile, “who happen to be musicians.” That sound – of good friends, good taste, and good times – is what, more than anything, makes Through the Round Window such a gem.