Though Danny Burns’ debut, North Country (Pinecastle Records), is set to be released on January 18th , he is anything but a musical newcomer. Growing up in the Irish county of Donegal, he was exposed to Irish folk music at an early age, and has since cut his teeth living across the pond in New York City, New Orleans, Chicago, and the Maryland suburbs of D.C. It’s apparent that he’s made his rounds touring the world and impressing the best of them, as North Country features some amazing guests on the album: Tift Merritt, Holly Williams, Mindy Smith, Cara Dillon, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Tim O’Brien, Dan Tyminski, Critter Fuqua (of Old Crow Medicine Show), and Chessboxer.
Like most great songwriters, Burns’ songs focus on where he has been and what he has experienced. There are a few tales about Irish history and growing up in Ireland (see “Darling Roisin,” “North Country,” or “Great Big Sea”), and he uses this as a platform to also showcase his musical Irish roots: “Great Big Sea” could easily live within a proper Irish Seisun at your local Irish pub, while “Darling Roisin” displays some genuine Irish balladry.
The tracks that made the biggest impression, however, are the ones that tackle more comprehensive stories. “Down and Out” focuses on someone who is just that—out of luck and dealt with a bad hand—yet still preservers through it. The standout track on the album is easily “Look Into Her Eyes.” In notes we received for this album, Burns describes it as “just another Irish/Cajun jam-romp through the French Quarter…” This may be Burns showing a bit of humbleness and humility, and it can definitely been seen as such, but the chorus is one that I haven’t been able to kick since hearing it:
“Look into her eyes / And you’ll see / Is she here for love, boys? / Or is she here to leave?”
There is a bit of dichotomy here. If you’ve ever been to New Orleans, you’ll probably understand how this can just be a reflection of the revelry and debauchery that we often associate with NOLA, Mardi Gras, and the like—young, naïve kids having a big night out and pressing their luck. Taken another way, though, Burns has successfully described one’s many mixed feelings towards another: love and hope, yes, but also vulnerability and uncertainty. He’s able to do this all in one line, and it’s further proof that Burns has been perfecting his craft well before this debut.
The all-encompassing “Americana” genre has seen a rise in popularity in recent years, and Burns’ Irish folk influences and inflections (particularly in his singing style) are welcome and refreshing take on the more twangy roots music we often here in the U.S. . It’s a prime example of how a typical country/folk set up (guitar, banjo, mandolin, etc.)has no boundaries, and is also a reminder that much of American folk music takes its roots from those that preceded it—in this case, Irish folk music. His tour starts this month, so be sure to check out his album and tour dates here.