March is always a busy month for Boston musician Kier Byrnes. He can’t remember exactly when it started, but he has been playing Irish/Celtic music at gigs on his own or with his band, Three Day Threshold, for years now. He estimates he’ll do 30 sets of Irish music this March alone, celebrating the release of his new album Blarney, credited to Kier Byrnes & Friends.
The idea grew organically. Three Day Threshold would always include at least one traditional Irish song on each album, which has made them popular with bookers around St. Patrick’s Day. In 2010, they sold out the Paradise Rock Club in Boston for a St. Patrick’s Day CD release show of their album Straight Out of the Barrel. The capacity of the venue at that time was 725.
“I’d have to say that the Irish influence has always been a big component to the band,” he says. “The week leading up to St Paddy’s Day, I am doing twenty to thirty hours typically of Irish gigs. On this year’s holiday, we will be performing at the Stockyard in Brighton for over ten hours. We will do easily a hundred different Irish songs, including all these on the album. With that being said, while these songs will work their way out into my solo shows and possibly even Three Day Threshold’s performances, I probably won’t do a ten-hour of gig of Irish music any other time of year. This is a unique time of year for that, especially in Boston.”
He doesn’t remember what year the first all-Celtic gig happened, but he does remember other specifics. It was a house for his friend Kate’s birthday on March. Byrnes is from an Irish family, and the gig was a revelation to him. “It went as well as it could have gone for my first all-Celtic show,” he says. “And as rough as I thought the set was, it was a musical awakening of sorts; it lit a fire in me to rediscover this music that I used to hear all the time growing up as a kid.”
There are certain times of year when Byrnes listens to nothing but holiday music. From October to New Year’s, he’s tuned in to a steady diet of Christmas music. From then until the end of March, it’s Irish music. That’s how he found the songs to build his repertoire. “As I have the radio on all time, I’ve recordings of many different artists recorded at various points in history doing these songs, and others,” he says. “And as I listen to them, I dissect each version in a very academic way. I do this to get me in the zone for my St Paddy’s Day season performances and it also keeps the music fresh for me and exciting each year as I rediscover it.”
Byrnes included some obvious choices like “Irish Rover” and “Danny Boy, but wanted to do some that weren’t quite as recognizable. “I think I went with slightly more obscure songs,” he says. “But even with the obscure tunes, there are loads of versions out there, as many of these songs have been around for hundreds of years. So it just depends on the depth of your knowledge of Irish music whether you recognize it or not.”
One cover, Dominic Behan’s “Come Out Ye Black and Tans” addresses the struggle for Irish independence in a broadside against the “Black and Tans,” the auxiliary force created in the 1920s to help suppress the IRA. The lyrics reflect the mood of Irish nationalists at the time.
Oh, come out you black and tans
Come out and fight me like a man
Show your wives how you won medals down in Flanders
Tell them how the IRA made you run like hell away
From the green and lovely lanes in Killashandra
It was an important aspect of Irish culture for Byrnes to address. “You can’t sing Irish music,” he says, “especially traditional folk songs of the Irish, without recognizing the oppression that the country has experienced.”
Three Day Threshold has always augmented their meat-and-potatoes rock band arrangements with banjo, mandolin, and fiddle. Those instruments are especially featured on Blarney, and Byrnes tempered his preference for upbeat tunes a bit. “Even though Blarney has some barnburners, this album has a lot more ballads that I’ve ever done,” he says. “I think that may be reflective of just where I am right now though.”
Blarney is certainly well-suited for St. Patrick’s Day – there’s a reason its official release is on St. Patrick’s Day. But Byrnes hopes it has more range as a collection of songs he loves. “It’s a seasonal album as much as the listener wants it to be,” he says. “The music is certainly in line with the St Paddy’s Day season, as I call it, but the reason I picked the traditional Irish songs that appear on Blarney is because I believe they’re all good songs on their own. So I’m hoping the album will hold up so that it’s listened to year round, but if people just pull it out every March, I’d be fine with that too.”
There are fourteen songs on the CD, but Byrnes is well aware that most people get their music digitally these days. He recommends streaming the album from the Three Day Threshold BandCamp site, which currently features eight bonus tracks. He may add even more from time to time. But if you want to buy the music and help support the band, Byrnes appreciates the gesture. “If you want to toss us some money, I promise to use it on beer,” he says.
Look for a new Three Day Threshold album soon, and watch their Facebook page for tour and at festival information.