Damien plays banjo and David plays guitar, with a bit of instrument-swapping and a couple of friends dropping in. Not sure why the names are this way round – O’Kane definitely leads, with Kosky accompanying and harmonising, doing much more than the average accompanist but still in the background most of the time. Maybe they’re trying to pretend this isn’t a banjo CD, or distancing this from Damien’s singing career. In any case, neither player has anything to be ashamed of here: the music sparkles throughout.

Google O’Kane, and you’ll discover he is “a blue-eyed, brown-eyed Northern Irishman” whose singing has evoked fulsome praise, even comparisons with his partner Kate Rusby. But that’s not the Damien O’Kane on this album. The Mystery Inch is all about banjo, in the footsteps of Gerry O’Connor, and it starts with a cracking pair of traditional jigs bracketing the title tune, one of three Kosky compositions here. Reels, and the grand old slip jig Elizabeth Kelly’s Delight bring us to the first slow section: two more Kosky tunes played in lazy laid-back mode. The same pair of jigs crops up at speed as a final bonus, but for now the lads stay mellow with Marga’s Moment, a gentle 7/8 air by Armagh fluter Brian Finnegan. These slower tunes give Kosky a chance to shine, playing melody and double-stopping, before Damien launches into a version of The Humours of Tulla.

Na Ceannabhain Bhána has long been a favourite of mine, and the addition of three more fine musicians makes this track doubly enjoyable. Danny Cameron and Carmel O’Dea bring button box and fiddle to the party, while John Joe Kelly batters away on his hi-tech drum. The tempo drops again for a couple of O’Kane tunes, before a funky reel by a young Scottish fluter. More reels, this time by Damien, raise the vexed question of what counts as a new tune: then it’s into three classic jigs and another Scottish connection with The Seagull. A touch of technical magic brings bass banjo to the earth-trembling Bowelshifter, followed by a fine set of reels which deserve better names. Kosky and O’Kane finish as they started, with jigs, and damned fine ones, jogging off into the sunset on a pair of chestnut guitars. Then the bonus track bursts in like the taxi at the end of Blazing Saddles and brings us back to reality. Good music played hard, played soft, and everything in between: The Mystery Inch is bigger than it sounds, and will certainly put a smile on the face of banjo fans.

Alex Monaghan

SONGLINES MAGAZINE   November/December 2011


Damien O’Kane and David Kosky

A Rollicking good pub session of an album

Twelve instrumentals, five pairs of hands, and about as much transportative fun and joyful tune-making as you can imagine: welcome to the quicksilver ‘instruMENTAL’ (as they put it) world of The Mystery Inch.  The line-up consists of Damien O’Kane on banjo and guitar, David Kosky on guitar, John-Joe Kelly, the great bodhran player from Michael McGoldrick’s band, fiddler Carmel O’Dea and Danny Cameron on button box.  According to O’Kane, whose regular job is in Kate Rusby’s band, the ‘only rule was to make some music that was as raw, fun and live as possible”.

The title-track is a Kosky original sandwiched by two traditionals, ‘The Humours of Ballyloughlin’ and ‘The Banks of Newfoundland’.  Like many of the tunes, or ‘diddles’ as the liner notes call them, these were learnt and drawn from the world of late-night informal sessions, and summoned up from the misadventures of life on the road.  It’s incredibly assured, intimate playing, full of invention, fun and friendship, and studded with moments of real beauty as the players’ instruments coalesce. This may not be an album with a major statement to make but it’s a music that will stay fresh for years to come.

Written by Tim Cumming

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