JigJam’s Jamie McKeogh Discusses Showcasing the Irish Roots of Bluegrass on New Album ‘Across the Pond’

Last month, the Irish bluegrass band JigJam released their latest album Across the Pond. The 12-track collection showcases a blend of Irish traditional music and bluegrass. The album is a little more than a month old, but listening to it is like stepping back in time and hearing the roots of American ‘grass.

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One could trace the lineage of bluegrass back to the old-time “hillbilly music” of the Appalachian region. Early Irish immigrants greatly influenced the sound of old-time music by injecting their folk songs into the budding genre of American folk music. As a result, JigJam shows listeners where the genre came from while also demonstrating where it can go in the future.

JigJam guitarist and vocalist Jamie McKeogh sat down with American Songwriter to discuss Across the Pond and the band’s path to modern bluegrass.

JigJam’s Path to Bluegrass Was a Natural One

The members of JigJam grew up in Ireland and cut their teeth on the folk music of their homeland. They formed the bluegrass outfit before relocating to the United States. “We were all Irish traditional players,” McKeogh said. “That’s where we started off at when we were younger. We’ve been playing bluegrass for a few years now and we’re really learning the connection between Irish and bluegrass music,” he added.

“When we started the band, we had a five-string banjo player. So, I think our stuff sounded a bit bluegrass-y with the Scruggs-style banjo,” he explained. “It was probably only when we delved into the bluegrass side of things that we realized how similar the two styles were. Bluegrass started with the influence of Irish music from all of those immigrants years and years ago. I think it was a very natural progression to start going into bluegrass,” he added.

Blending ‘Grass and Irish Traditional Music

JigJam’s music is bluegrass through the lens of Irish artists. However, there are some songs on the album where the two styles blend perfectly, showcasing the best of both worlds. They feature pieces of songs from both sides of the Atlantic. Those songs are “Good Ole Mountain Dew” and “The Appalachian Irishman.” McKeogh explained both songs and how they came to be.

JigJam’s Mountain Dew Mashup

McKeogh said the band has been listening to the bluegrass standard “Good Old Mountain Dew” for years. There’s a similar Irish song as well. “There’s also an Irish song called, ‘The Rare Old Mountain Dew’ which is very similar. It’s about the same thing,” he said. “So, ‘Good Old Mountain Dew’ is obviously about the moonshine over here. What we call the ‘mountain dew’ at home is poitin, which is Irish moonshine,” McKeogh explained.

“We took some of the lyrics of that song and put it into our version and also kind of made our own lyrics based on where we come from and things like that,” he said of the song. “We took the tune from ‘Rare Old Mountain Dew’ and put it in and put in a bit of Irish lilting. It’s kind of a mashup of both cultures in one song,” he added.

Appalachia Meets Ireland

“Appalachian Irishman” is an instrumental tune that blends two Irish folk tunes with an American bluegrass song and a clever arrangement to create a stellar blend of cultures. “What we did was we got an old Irish barn dance written by a guy named Marcus Hernon. That’s an old tune that we would have played when we were young guys,” McKeogh explained. “The name of the second tune is ‘The Longford Tinker’ we got from The Bothy Band. The last tune is ‘The Temperance Reel.’ The Irish name for that song is ‘The Teetotaler,’” He added.

“We like to do things a little backward so we have the five-string banjo playing solos over Irish tunes which isn’t typical for Irish music,” McKeogh pointed out. “Then, we have the banjo playing the bluegrass tun in unison which isn’t typical for bluegrass. A set like that kind of encapsulates the crossover.”

Across the Pond is available to stream everywhere right now. JigJam is also touring the United States in support of the album.

Featured Image Courtesy of The Mixtape PR

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