Like Ben Folds Five, there is a bit of misdirection in We Banjo 3’s nomenclature. First, there are typically only two banjos involved in the band’s presentation. And there are four total members — two sets of brothers (Enda and Fergal Scahill and Martin and David Howley), all hailing from Ireland. There doesn’t seem to be a mystical three anywhere in We Banjo 3’s composition (although David Howley does play banjo like Enda Scahill and Martin Howley, but he’s usually on acoustic guitar), but I have a theory: Maybe they had other iterations of the band and came up with this one on the third attempt? Perhaps We Banjos 1 and 2 didn’t work out — 3 may well have been the charm?
Whatever the etymology of the band’s name, the brothers Scahill and Howley are gifted musicians who have, individually and collectively, won many critical achievement awards at home. Since the group’s 2011 formation, We Banjo 3 has attracted a legion of fans with a hybridized style they’ve dubbed “Celtgrass,” a mash-up of traditional Celtic music and Americanized Bluegrass (itself rooted in the conventions of British Folk). Over the course of eight years and five albums, We Banjo 3 has completed and expanded that circle of musical evolution.
Originating in Galway, We Banjo 3 released its debut album, Roots of the Banjo Tree, in 2012; The Irish Times ultimately awarded it Traditional Music Album of the Year honors. Since then, We Banjo 3 has added four more albums to its impressive catalog, including its latest, 2018’s Haven. All of We Banjo 3’s albums have been ecstatically received by critics around the world and notched a good deal of commercial success as well. Haven topped the Billboard’s Bluegrass chart when it was released.
This latest album, in particular, encapsulates everything that WB3 does infinitely well: crack musicianship, well-crafted lyrics that deliver deep messages, engaging stories and party directions that are both heartfelt and uplifting, and almost scientifically balanced senses of humor and gravity. David Howley said in an interview with NYS Music last year that the band had the ability to “make people dance like newborn giraffes and sing like they wrote the lyrics themselves.” We Banjo 3 has also helped elevate the banjo’s status from joke butt (What’s the definition of perfect pitch? Throwing a banjo into a dumpster without hitting the sides) to respected instrument with the players’ sterling musicianship and brilliant songwriting.