Own label CD 001; 51 minutes; 2004
Responding to this album’s title with the reply that Darren Maloney is a banjo player from County Cavan simply will not suffice. As his comrade in plectrum abuse, Kieran Hanrahan, notes, Darren is both ‘technically brilliant and musically clever’, and it is impossible to disagree with such experienced sentiments when faced by the evidence of this staggeringly excellent debut album.
Darren is no flash in the pan either since he brings twenty years’ experience of playing tenor banjo to Who?, though whether the instrument is the same as the one he first found under a bed at home is not revealed by his liner notes. (Strangely, this reviewer also once discovered a banjolele under his parents’ bed, but the reason it was stored there became immediately apparent the moment he persuaded his father to attempt a tune).
Indeed, Darren does not just play the tenor banjo on this album, but also an electric version of the instrument and mandolin as well, to the accompaniment provided by guitarist Joe Brennan, percussionist Brian Fleming and, on one track, the bodhrán of Richie Lyons.
Of course, banjo albums are so few and far between that it is tempting to draw parallels, and especially to Gerry O’Connor or Éamonn Coyne, but there is so much that’s invigoratingly different about Who? as to render such comparisons redundant.
The majority of the tracks on the album are self-composed and the few exceptions are drawn from the repertoires of Béla Fleck, James Fagan (of Broderick), Amy Cann from Vermont, Darren’s mate Colin Farrell, Brian Carolan from Meath, and Mike McGoldrick, as well as a couple of entirely traditional sets. He’s a grand man for punning titles too, as Singing in Irun and Graffiti Fridge both reveal, but his own compositions and those of others all mesh together with the traditional originals in such an engrossing manner that it really does become almost impossible to distinguish new from old.
The upshot is that listening to Who? becomes a hugely engaging experience and once which discovers new delights with each new playing. The evidence is clear, unquestionable and resounding – this really is one of the best albums of the year and sets a benchmark for not just future banjo albums, but future independent releases.
10th December, 2004
Darren’s website is the suitably titled www.darrenmaloney.com.