Enda Scahill has written his second book in five months, this time a tunebook for the group We Banjo 3. Here is my review:
WE Banjo 3 Tune Book
While it is not billed as “Enda Scahill's Banjo Tutor 3” it is, in fact, the book for advanced players, especially those who have finished Enda's two tutors.
This book is a vehicle for the band We Banjos 3 which consists of Enda Scahill and brothers Martin and David Howley. Enda needs no introduction, of course, and the Howley brothers are wonderful musicians who play a variety of instruments but focus on the Irish tenor banjo. The fact that each of these elite level players has contributed to the tune book is the reason why it is an advanced tutor.
I am sure that the band never intended for the book to be a tutorial. After all, I assume it was produced to promote the band and their interesting take on Irish and American music. But if you are past the two Enda Scahill tutorials (or wished you were) this book and CDs are a rich resource of techniques and ideas that you can't pass up.
While the teaching is sparse – there is a single page telling you what ornamentation is used and assumes you know what a “Crushed Note” is – advanced players don't need the verbiage when the accompanying CDs tell the whole story. Even if you don't know what a crushed note is, you will find out very quickly by listening and noting how the tunes are made unique by the blend of styles and ideas. Most of the tunes are familiar and those that are not are well worth learning. While there are a million tunes and a thousand tune books, none are like this one.
For one thing, this is a banjo tune book. You can use the tunes to play the mandolin and the very interesting accompanying guitar by brother Fergal Scahill is well worth learning, but this is a banjo book. That alone makes it almost unique.
Second, the book reflects its authors. All three musicians have been involved in various All-Ireland competitions and both Martin Howley and Enda Scahill are sought after by students who want to do well in these competitions. As a result, the book is divided into two sections: tunes that will help you win a competition and ones that will guarantee that you will fail. It's this distinction that makes the book unique.
Martin and David Howley are successful competition musicians with Martin taking seven All Ireland titles. I remember Enda telling us in class that he learned to play in a style that was frowned upon in the various competitions when he was young. That style, of course, is his alone and makes him one of the finest in his field but lead to “disqualifications.” Eventually his style went way beyond competition.
When they formed We Banjos 3, the idea was to expand stylistically and musically. The “Disqualified” portion of the book comes out of this experience. . The twenty solos ranging from “Poor Little Liza Jane” to “Guns of the Magnificent Seven” are pure We Banjo 3 incorporating a wide range of styles and ideas that lie outside of the style that is expected at the Fleadhs. Just the idea of playing more than one banjo at a time is mind-boggling to some and if you are familiar with banjo bands, you will see that they take the idea to another place. That place is both familiar and strange but the combination has made We Banjos 3 very popular at festivals and concert halls.
Part of this has to do with their enthusiasm for the banjo and the way it comes across to the listener. You can look at their youtube videos and see how the audience responds and even the most literal traditional player has to respond to the music with tapping feet when listening. Good banjo players seem to have this capability be they Earl Scruggs, Buddy Wachter or Barney McKenna. The banjo is a happy instrument. We Banjo 3 has tapped into this feeling and it shows in their music and in this book.
Buy this book. It will satisfy you at a number of levels. There are forty tunes in print and on the CDs. These alone are a reason to buy the book. But look beyond notes, tabs, and CDs, and immerse ourself in the ideas of three of Irelands best musicians (four if you count Fergal Scahill) and learn to play the banjo at its highest level. http://www.webanjo3.com/tunebook3.html
Mike is on the money, this is a great book! The tunes are mainly Irish with a sprinkling of American, Scottish and English pieces for good measure.
They are full performance arrangements and invite you to play your own variations. They work very well on the mandolin with the shorter scale making some of the left hand fingering easier than on the banjo but this is offset by the higher string tension and double strings making some of the ornaments more of a challenge on the mandolin.
Thanks for the great news Mike - I've just ordered it. And its great to read on their website that they are currently recording an album for release soon. Before hearing these guys, I never dreamed that 3 banjos could sound so good together. I particularly like their take on old-time music standards.
We Banjo 3 will be at the Milwaukee Irishfest in August along with a number of great acts including the Punch Brothers, Del McCoury, Gerry O'Connor, Mick Moloney, Pauleen Coneely, Bruce Molsky, and the Fuschia band. It will be banjo heaven for those interested and I think there might be an informal banjo summit at some point.