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CD review: ‘Three Dollar Band’

You can download “Three Dollar Band” on Amazon.com and iTunes.

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The Three Dollar Band cut their teeth in Irish pubs around town, but their studio debut suggests they could be just as successful in Kansas City’s country bars.

The case is made over the self-titled album’s first three tracks. “Back at the Beginning” is a low-key number buoyed by lead singer and songwriter Adam Braunschweig’s unassuming baritone voice and laid-back acoustic guitar.

“All the Cats Are Sailing” is a lively flute-and-fiddle jig and reel driven by Chris Carr and Keith Van Winkle. Both elements converge on the third song, “Gamble of Souls,” a track that inhabits the same spirit, if not the energy, as Steve Earle’s “Galway Girl.” In fact, Earle’s song is a frequent touchstone throughout the album.

As the album bounces between Braunschweig’s earthy, Americana songwriting and his bandmates’ Irish impulses, the results are often spectacular. Flute and harmonica dance on “Ballad of the Millworker,” and the bodhran supplies a nice counter-rhythm to a banjo on “Leon’s Last Ride.” The closing track, “Spin Me Round,” is one of the few songs that could accommodate both Riverdance and the boot scootin’ boogie.

Braunschweig is a fine folk songwriter – his song “Lull” won second place in American Songwriter’s lyric competition – but Van Winkle and Carr’s contributions really push the material beyond the folk/roots circuit. A longtime veteran of Kansas City’s Irish music scene, Van Winkle’s résumé includes the bands Gabriel’s Gate, Scartaglen, Newgrange and the Cowtown Ceihlie Band. Carr’s decade-plus of classical training informs many of the arrangements, especially the instrumental “Fishing With the Count.”

“Three Dollar Band” captures the trio’s rapid growth in the two years since their debut. The band’s first album, a live recording issued last September, relied entirely on traditional material. All but one of the 16 tracks on their sophomore release are original compositions. The group’s woodshedding from constant gigs around town is also evident. The arrangements are lively but focused, and Braunschweig inhabits his songs with confidence.

The band is a welcome addition to our town’s already vibrant Irish music scene. With so many shining examples for them to follow and learn from, it will be exciting to see where this promising group goes from here.

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