We Banjo 3 Electrify With Acoustic Sounds on 'Roots to Rise Live'

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Rating: 7.5/10

In general, music is best experienced live. There's something about clapping along with a crowd of fellow fans that adds a dimension to the experience that you just can't get from within a studio. A well-made live album aims to capture as much of that kinetic energy as possible, making the experience as close to the real thing as can be gotten. Irish quartet We Banjo 3 have found that balance on their new live record Roots to Rise.

It's no surprise that We Banjo 3 thrives in a live environment. The band occupies the neutral zone between bluegrass and traditional Celtic music, a style they call Celtgrass. Among the many things that Celtic and bluegrass music shares, one is that it was a musical style born to be experienced live, played on front porches, in barns, and in pubs. As a result, both styles have evolved to include little if any percussion. The rest of the space normally occupied by drums is made up by clapping and stomping from the audience. On Roots to Rise, this is best exemplified by the instrumental track “Puncheon Floor.” The song begins slowly, with only a banjo, before introducing instruments gradually while also increasing speed and complexity. The audience gamely cheers each tempo change and provides their own percussion, keeping time with the band.

Live albums can also be powerful in what you don't hear from the crowd; the moments where a particularly heartfelt or emotive song has the audience silent, hanging on every word. We Banjo 3 provides those moments too, most successfully on the title track from their 2018 release Haven and on the ballad “This Is Home.”

But the true standout track on Roots to Rise comes when We Banjo 3 decides to channel their inner Yonder Mountain String Band for some extended jams on “Prettiest Little Girl.” The Celtic traditional begins normally, if a bit faster than you'd hear from purists. The surprise comes in the middle when the band seamlessly transitions into a Celtgrass reimagining of Stevie Wonder's “Superstition.”

The final element of a good live album is in its production. Too little audience noise and you may as well have a studio album. Too much and your album sounds like a bootleg Widespread Panic show recorded by a guy in the fifth row. Engineer Mike Monseur and producer Frank Marchand strike the perfect balance, and cut the songs taken from two nights in Ann Arbor, MI into something that sounds like one continuous show.

We Banjo 3 will be hitting the road this summer and fall to give folks intrigued by the live album a dose of the real thing and once again they'll be partnering with the charity Mental Health America by donating $2 from every t-shirt sale to the cause. Here are their upcoming dates:

Fri, 7/19-- Oak Hill, NY-- Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival
Sat, 7/20-- Berea, OH-- Cleveland Irish Festival
Sun, 7/21-- Berea, OH-- Cleveland Irish Festival
Tues, 7/23-- Port Clinton, OH-- The Listening Room
Wed, 7/24-- Buffalo, NY-- Ninth Ward at Babeville
Fri, 7/26-- Frankfort, NY-- Great American Irish Festival
Sat, 7/27-- Calgary, AB-- Calgary Folk Festival
Sun, 7/28-- Calgary, AB-- Calgary Folk Festival
Thurs, 8/1-- Portsmouth, OH-- Vern Riffe Center for the Arts
Fri, 8/2-- Dublin, OH-- Dublin Irish Fest
Sat, 8/3-- Dublin, OH-- Dublin Irish Fest
Sun, 8/4-- Dublin, OH-- Dublin Irish Fest
Mon, 8/5-- Bethlehem, PA-- Musikfest
Tues, 8/6-- Bethlehem, PA—Musikfest
Thurs, 8/8—Marshfield, WI—Chestnut Center for the Arts
Fri, 8/9-- St. Paul, MN-- Irish Fest of Minnesota
Sat, 8/10-- La Crosse, WI-- La Crosse Irish Festival
Sun, 8/11-- La Cross, WI-- La Crosse Irish Festival
Thurs, 8/15-- Milwaukee, WI-- Milwaukee Irish Festival
Fri, 8/16-- Milwaukee, WI-- Milwaukee Irish Festival
Sat, 8/17-- Milwaukee, WI-- Milwaukee Irish Festival
Sun, 8/18-- Milwaukee, WI-- Milwaukee Irish Festival
Wed, 10/2—Bend, OR—Tower Theatre
Fri, 10/4-- Fairbanks, AK-- Hering Auditorium
Sat, 10/5— Anchorage, AK— Alaska Center for the Performing Arts
Sat, 10/6-- Valdez, AK-- Valdez Civic Center
Wed, 10/9-- Washington D.C.-- The Hamilton
Thurs, 10/10-- Live Oak, FL-- Suwanee Roots Revival
Fri, 10/11-- Live Oak, FL-- Suwanee Roots Revival
Wed, 10/16-- Brownfield, ME-- Stone Mountain Arts Center