May 2017 Album of the Month: I Draw Slow


Turn Your Face to the Sun
Compass Records

Here's a recording in the tradition of Nickel Creek, Alison Krauss, and Ryan Adams. Who knew that some of the very best purveyors of North Carolinian bluegrass are Irish? I Draw Slow is built around the brother/sister collaboration of Dubliners Dave (guitar/vocals) and Louise Holden (vocals), and is rounded out by Adrian Hart (fiddle), Colin Derham (clawhammer banjo), and Konrad Liddy (double bass). The Holdens excel at close harmony singing, but Louise is a treasure in her own right—she of the strong, clear voice tinged with just the right amount of husk.

I do not exaggerate when I say that this is music that makes you wonder if the Wicklow Mountains were magically transported to the suburbs of Asheville. Like the best bluegrass/trad folk bands, I Draw Slow mixes darkness and light, though they list a bit more to the former. What's really cool is that they take you to dark places with a smile on your lips. The album's title comes from a line in the opening track, "Maria," in which Dave sings: Turn back Marie, don't follow me/Maria, turn your face to the sun/Oh my Maria/Oh, if you knew what I had done. This is your classic bluegrass bad man tale, complete with its Will I always be alone lamentation. Generally, though, this band makes you think by sneaking up on you. There is, for example, "Don't Wake the Children," a quiet song with a melody more gorgeous than a week full of power ballads. It's so pretty you'd be excused for thinking it a lullaby, though it's really about the gnawing worry that life is slipping away without measure or reckoning: Is this the midway or the end?/Hands over your heart, do you sleep or just pretend?/I'd like to reach across the stone/Each wonderful day that we are flesh as well as bone/So don't wake the children, don't wake the children just yet. And there's "Apocalypso," a love song, but of the Devil take the hind parts variety. Louise Holden is absolutely stunning on this one (and every other track as well)—ethereal of voice, yet full of verve and energy at the same time. Another stellar track is "My Portion," which is about the journey of addicts of all varieties, so I guess that covers all of us. It includes the wonderful line: Oh, love you give what I need/You take like a one-armed bandit.

If you'd prefer lyrics a bit less cryptic, try "Twin Sisters," (at 4:40) another bluegrass staple: the love-me-or-I'll-die high-energy song (What'' I do if I can't have you), framed by deliberately raw scratch fiddle. Or perhaps the mountain wedding song "Same Old Dress Will Do," or the more country-laced, flat-picked "Garage Flowers," a duet-commit-or-leave song: Hey honey, I was wondering where you've been/Because if you don't ring the bell then you won't get in/I'm not getting any younger waiting home alone for you/If you're just gonna leave these garage flowers and push on through.

If you listen carefully you'll hear some Irish references, but mainly you'll marvel over how well I Draw Slow has mastered American folk and bluegrass. I suppose I shouldn't be all that surprised; after all, scores of Yanks play Irish music. A lot of them can but dream of mastering the songs of Erin with the mastery in which these five sons and daughters of the Auld Sod have carved out their own little piece of Appalachia.

Rob Weir

Postscript: Some might have heard of I Draw Slow from their song "Valentine," which appeared in a Game of Thrones episode. 

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