The banjo is one of the most stereotyped instruments in music. Its mention may lead casual listeners, even many audiophiles, to think of artists like Earl Scruggs or perhaps Steve Martin, and, if you are lucky, Bela Fleck. Nonetheless, the banjo has proven adaptable to many settings beyond its usual home in bluegrass and old-time music. Galway-based We Banjo 3 reminds us that the instrument is not only a staple of Celtic music; it also compliments songs leaning towards blues, jazz and Americana equally well.
With "Gift Of Life," the quartet, composed of two sets of brothers, employs the banjo not as a melody instrument, but rather as a lilting accent to the acoustic guitar, mandolin and horn section. Beginning quietly with only David Howley's guitar, the song builds intensity as the group adds instruments and reveals the song's lyrical theme of adventure ("Maybe the gift of life is living / The treasure is the quest / What if the truth in every legend / Is you can only try your best"). It makes for a soulful meditation on self-discovery, augmented by the tune's innovative combination of instruments.