Morgan O’Kane- brooklyn’s banjo king.

I’m not gonna lie, I’m a sucker for great banjo. It’s mostly a recent obsession for me, I’m not from the mountains of Virginia like O’Kane, and here at the Jersey Shore you can go decades before bumping into someone with a banjo. Luckily for the rest of the world, and most of New York, Morgan O’Kane grew up in the Appalachians, the region best known for “old time” music, bluegrass, and pretty much all things banjo. And he’s good. His latest release(the hardcopy released August 30th, i believe the digital version should show up soon) “Pendulum” is a mix of traditional appalachian sensibilities and more modern songwriting tools. From track to track you get a thorough look at some of the most important aspects of mountain music, from the hell-raising foot stompers “rain rain”, to the subtler approach found on “railroad blues”. His voice part gravelly shout, part southern standard, works perfectly for the music he’s written. It’s distinct, and with his backing fiddle, cello, and dobro the album comes together nicely. I think perhaps the only thing musically I could have used less of is the tambourine. I know it must be a holdover from his work busking on the streets of NYC(every one-man-band needs a tambo to stomp), but at times I find it more distracting than anything else. With this exception the rest of the album fits together nicely, the production and recording well-suited to the man and his distinctive traditional style. As a fan of “high lonesome” Roscoe Holcomb, and other old school banjo legends, I have to say half of the allure of the instrument is the very real men who play it. Some of the countries best banjo players were the ones who grew up pickin’ on the porch for their friends and family, and O’Kane seems to follow in this tradition. Each song is his. The vocals. The banjo. They all tell the story of a man and his traditions. It’s quite respectable that even as he’s just beginning to really push himself as an artist(he’s been playing forever, but only recently began putting out records), he continues to push for social change in his appalachian hometown, using his voice to further the fight against some of the coal industries harmful practices(check out Mountain Justice for more information). Overall Morgan O’Kane‘s “Pendulum” is a refreshing reminder of the beauty of musical tradition, and an excellent expression of one man’s commitment to continuing it. Be sure to check out his facebook for more information on the upcoming digital release!

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