Over the past few years, more and more North American musicians under the age of 40 are forming old-time string bands, and playing music that sounds more like it's from the 1940s than 2006. According to VOA's Katherine Cole, one of the best examples of this phenomenon is The Duhks, a group of 20-somethings from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
The Duhks include five members: Tania Elizabeth plays the fiddle, Jordan McConnell, the guitar, , the vocal chords, Leonard Podolak plays banjo and Scott "Senor" Senior adds the percussion.
Four of the five Duhks sing, and you can hear them harmonizing beautifully with lead singer Jessie Havey on "Ol' Cook Pot," the opening track of their new CD, Migrations.
Like the Duhks' native Canada, and the United States, folk music is a melting pot of music from cultures all over the world. On Migrations, the Duhks mix influences from bluegrass, blues, and gospel with Irish dance music and Afro-Cuban beats. It sounds like a strange combination. But the Duhks have forged a sound that is, at the same time, both brand new and familiar.
Like their first two recordings, Migrations is winning the band rave reviews from music journalists around the world. The group is finding fans all over the globe, including countries where English is not a primary language.
Percussionist Scott Senior tells how the band knew that they had broken the language barrier, and was making music that was accessible to all.
"Well, I really realized it when we got sent a copy of a bluegrass magazine from Japan that featured The Duhks," he said. "I realized at that point that this music really is that universal!"
Is it just the entire sound?
"I think it is that we're so darned cute," Havey said.
"Good music transcends culture and any kind of division between people," said Elizabeth.
"And speaking of division, we celebrate our lack of division in terms of what we incorporate into the band," added Podolak. "It's really not surprising that it is so universal because we are taking from so many things in the universe to make this music happen."
Migrations is a mix of old songs, including several spirituals, and new material, including "Who Will Take My Place?", written by Dan Frenchette about Michael Collins, the Irish patriot and revolutionary.
Musically, the group is a democracy, with all five Duhks bringing songs to the band. Tania Elizabeth says they all know each other well enough to have a good idea of how the others will react to a piece of music.
"We know within the first couple of times of playing a tune, or a song, whether or not it resonates with all of us," Elizabeth said. "It becomes pretty readily apparent. I'd say about two-thirds of the stuff that we try sounds really good, and then there is a third of it that we just go, 'Uh, next!'"
"That said, every once in a while, there would be one song where one person, for the first couple months of playing it would be like, 'Ugh,', and now it's suddenly their favorite song to play," said Havey.
The Duhks close out 2006 and start 2007 much the same way they've spent the past four years; on the road, touring in support of Migrations, and their earlier releases.