I arrived in Dublin yesterday, in time to catch traditional harmonica virtuoso Rick Epping with his trio “The Unwanted” at the Dublin Love Live Music festival tonight. I was told that the show was at the Temple Bar, which turns out to be the name for several square blocks filled with pubs and restaurants in Dublin; figuring out exactly where I was going made me a few minutes late to the show.

What I heard was terrific. This trio of acoustic instruments–Epping on concertina and harmonica, sometimes simultaneously, Cathy Jordan on vocals and percussion, and Seamie O’Dowd on guitar and fiddle–made a hell of a racket. I have never heard an acoustic trio put out such a wall of sound, and you could definitely dance to it. Their music is based on the traditions of the Appalachian region, and it has plenty of the rhythmic drive that’s essential to Irish music. Epping played huge rhythm grooves and powerful leads on a range of harmonicas; it’s rare to hear harmonica hold a band together the way Epping does here. He used a range of instruments, many of them heavily modified. When I talked to him after the show he demonstrated one of those, a hellaciously loud instrument that started life as a 10-hole chromatic harp, from which he’d removed the slide and added reed plates tuned an octave (instead of a minor 2nd) apart. I also got to play a super-loud harp modified by Rick that had pitches laid out in pentatonic scales from top to bottom; wow did that thing scream when you leaned on it.

The great thing about this trio (and of course, the sound tech working the show) was that you could hear every note from every instrument in perfect clarity, with plenty of projection. Between them, these three instruments covered the sonic spectrum from low thumps to high wails. A small acoustic band with a mighty sound; what could be cooler?

I didn’t record this show on audio or video, but fortunately for all of us, The Unwanted have plenty of well-made stuff up on Youtube. The video in this post is just one sample; check them all out when you have a chance.

Rick and I are two of the three harp players cited by New Age pianist/slack key guitarist/harmonica virtuoso George Winston as influences (the third being Sam Hinton), and it was cool to hang out with him after years of exchanging emails. Dublin’s a great town for music, innit?