New Trad quintet Moxie release an uplifting debut album on jazz drummer David Lyttle's Lyte Records
Five-piece Sligo/Limerick band Moxie is this island’s latest New Trad sensation and Planted, its utterly infectious debut recording, is another feather in the cap for David Lyttle’s Lyte Records.
With jazz, hip-hop, blues and classical releases under its belt, it was only a matter of time before this most progressive of Northern Irish independent labels looked towards developments in Irish roots music.
Lyttle, himself an acclaimed jazz drummer, was impressed by Moxie at the 2013 Sligo Jazz Project and recruited banjoist Ted Kelly and accordionist Jos Kelly to perform there on ‘The Barinthus Suite’, an epic jazz-folk odyssey co-penned by Lyttle and bassist Eddie Lee, inspired by Sligo’s megalithic landscape.
Lyttle observed at first hand how these young musicians – aged between 19 and 23 – are as versatile as they are virtuosic. He asked the band to get in touch when it was ready to record its first record, and the rest, as they say, is history.
From the opening banjo-cum-accordion melody of the lively title track and the delightfully upbeat, radio-friendly accordion anthem ‘Death of the Den’, it’s clear that melody is the blood in the veins of Moxie's music.
Their unusual two-banjo/two-accordion attack weaves elements of bluegrass and pop around Celtic roots – like a cross between Bela Fleck and Kepa Junkera. Jos Kelly also doubles on keyboard, with which he forges a dynamic rhythmic partnership with percussionist Paddy Hazelton.
When not on tenor banjo duties, Cillian Doheny’s strummed acoustic guitar is high in the mix, particularly on the folk-pop gem ‘Mullaghmore’ – where his repeating five-note motif provides the backbone to this simple yet stirring number – and on the head-bobbing ‘Black Widow’, where accordion and banjo spin and reel in thrilling unison.
Shimmering keys define the mood of the balladic ‘Liberty’, but it’s the gorgeous, slow-waltzing banjo and accordion melody that really gets under the skin. The contours of the music change with an abrupt hike in rhythmic intensity, though melodically the song never wavers.
Not only does this exciting outfit hatch instantly accessible pop-trad melodies, they are also adept at crafting sophisticated through-composed fare. A fine example is the episodic ‘Drakeman’, which builds from gentle beginnings to stirring Moving Hearts-esque terrain, complete with crashing cymbal accents.
Hazelton – whose set-up is a curious hybrid of flamenco-type cajon and chamber-ensemble kit – is a subtle colorist, leaving as indelible a mark on the music as the more spotlight-grabbing lead instruments. On the happily intoxicating reel ‘Lead’, his touch is as light and propulsive as a great bodhran player when the band is in full cry, and as deft as a jazz drummer on brushes when the music ebbs.
Darren Roche and Kelly’s interweaving button accordions conjure a breezy Parisian vibe on the intro to ‘1st Degree’, before the quintet settles into the groove of a jaunty Irish jig. Kelly’s flowing banjo solo over an accordion ostinato is a rare show of individual virtuosity on a recording where the collective voice reins.
Planted is a fine, uplifting debut effort that propels Moxie straight into the ranks of trend setters like Tarab, This is How We Fly, The Olllam, The Gloaming and Ensemble Ériu – bands who are redefining the possibilities of traditional Irish music in the 21st century. With a little bit of the world in its music, Moxie has the world at its feet.
Planted is out now on Lyte Records.