Live Review

Whether we care to admit it or not, deep down everyone loves a boy band. And when that boy band actually has talent—which so rarely, if ever, happens in mainstream pop music—well, that’s irresistible. Boxing Banjo, made up of three young men from Mayo and one from Limerick (they like to be very clear about this) is boy band-meets-trad band—a playful, bold explosion of reels and jigs. However, I feel guilty using the term “boy band,” which implies a certain superficiality or inexperience completely incongruous with this band. “Young man band” is a better, if less catchy, classification, and it rightly encapsulates Boxing Banjo’s mixture of equal-parts mature music and youthful exuberance. These guys are still delightfully green, but they are complete naturals on stage: they look like they wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world, a feeling that naturally reciprocates in the audience. Unlike with other traditional bands, there is nothing restrictive about Boxing Banjo—the sheer movement they exhibit onstage is infectious and almost dance-like. Their instruments are not only tools for the tunes but instruments of communication, as they dialogue nonverbally via accordion, fiddle, banjo, and guitar. “The Blackthorn Stick,” for example, which you can hear on their debut album, “Round #1,” released early last year, makes the music talk.

The Irish Echo Colleen Taylor

Boxing Banjo’s Round # 1 is a thoroughly delightful album from the start. Youth, energy and a real sense of the music. 

Bill Margeson Live Ireland

Another gem out in the last few months is ROUND #1 by the young band BOXING BANJO. All under 30, this is another of the new bands that amaze us with their talent and musical maturity at such young ages. Brothers Dara and Mick Healy hail from Castlbar, County Mayo and were playing from the time they could walk. Both are certified classroom teachers who are taking a break to devote their full time to the music. Dara, a multi instrumentalist, is a master of the buttonbox, dances, and composes. Mick, who also has mastered many instruments, plays a dynamite banjo, is a well known Irish dancer, and has an enjoyable and calming voice. Joe McNulty is a star on the bodhran, fiddle and guitar, and Sean O’Meara, of Project West and Olliam fame, is masterful on the guitar and bass. Together, they have been awarded 20 All Ireland titles!

ROUND #1 is an exciting mix of jigs, polkas, barn dances, Old Timey and bluegrass tunes, with a couple of folk songs added into the collection. Eclectic? Yes, but it really works. Listening, you will feel that you are at a concert and the time will go too quickly as the variety entertains. One of the things I most enjoy about this group is how they impeccably mixed the instruments on the album so that you hear each one on every tune in perfect balance. You will enjoy hearing Joe’s deadly fiddle on “Don’t Think Twice,” Dara’s commanding box on “Bridgies’ Barndance” and “The Slug,” and the lively banjo of Mick on “Rockin the Boat.” There is Sean’s guitar that continually pulls it all in order, but spend some time listening to how great they sound when playing together-one of the best mixed albums I have heard! You can’t go wrong adding Boxing Banjo’s ROUND #1 to your listening library.

Irish American News Maryann McTeague Keifer 

Four young lads from the west of the country and that’s how De Danann started out of course. Boxing Banjo boasts fiddle and guitar from Joseph McNulty and Sean O’Meara but Mick and Dara Healy on banjo and button box occupy the centre stage. Their music is more Flanagan Brothers than De Danann, that 1920’s show band style drive and funk with an emphasis on Munster tunes. Polkas, jigs and barndances, a couple of sets of reels. Boxing Banjo keep things moving, and they’ve absorbed the lessons from Sharon Shannon, Máirtín O’Connor, Mike McGoldrick and others, so there’s never a dull moment on Round #1. A thumping version of The Mouse in the Kitchen, bags of swing onRocking the Boat, and a splendid romp through Lough Mountain are highlights for me. Mick ventures vocals on Don’t Think Twice, and it pays off: his Dingle Dylan delivery is very pleasant, drawling and tuneful, with a bouncy bluegrass banjo break to top it off. McNulty turns his hand to song accompaniment effortlessly, and lashes into the tunes too, while O’Meara follows Steve Cooney and Gavin Ralston with his percussive guitar style, hitting the beat and hitting it hard. Reels range across Ireland for The Jolly Tinker and Dinky Dorian’s. A couple of tracks stray even further afield with Carna Czardas and Fleur de Mandragore. The only time these lads slow down is for the Brian Finnegan 7/8 Marga’s Moment, and the song Fire and Rain, which was written by James Taylor. Otherwise it’s full steam ahead, sucking diesel, fuelled by red-hot banjo and pumping box, great entertainment from start to finish.

Alex Monaghan Irish Music Magazine

Tenor banjo player Mícheál ‘Mick’ Healy from Castlebar in Co. Mayo had been only nineteen years old, when we reviewed his 2012 debut album “Pleckin’ About.” Last summer Mick and his older brother Dara (button accordion), who took part in many recording sessions such as “Pleckin’ About” or Sinéad Healy’s “Shuffle the Deck,” decided to quit their daytime jobs as school teachers to become professional musicians. Together with Joseph McNulty (fiddle) and Seán O’Meara (guitar), the latter has performed and toured with The Olllam, their new outfit called Boxing Banjo has released their debut album. “Round #1” is an exciting mix of traditional Irish music and American old-time and bluegrass music. It is rhythmical and sonorous, which recalls the 1920s show band style of the Flanagan Brothers (Mick became acquainted with it playing with the Brock McGuire Band) on the one hand and bands such as North Cregg or accordionist Mairtin O’Connor (composer of the included “Rocking the Boat”) on the other. There are jigs and reels, barndances and Sliabh Luachra polkas. With Mairtin O’Connor’s Irish-Hungarian “Carna Czardas” and Michel Bordeleau’s crooked Quebecois “Fleur de Mandragore” they leave the beaten track for a moment or two. The lads only cool things down for Brian Finnegan’s 7/8 tune “Marga’s Moment”. There are four gifted vocalists in the band, but only two songs featured here, both delivered by Mick. His selection is taken from contemporary folk music, namely a frisky rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice,” including a splendid bluegrass banjo break, and James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” with strings and all.

Tom Keller FolkWorld Germany

Boxing Banjo is a youthful new Irish quartet playing mostly high energy Irish music with some American influences. Consisting of fiddle and guitar from Joseph McNulty and Sean O’Meara and Mick and Dara Healy on banjo and button box, the ensemble arsenal is solid and reliable.

The emphasis is on Munster tunes, regionalised Sliabh Luachra polkas, jigs and barn dances, and a couple of sets of reels for good measure. However

There is an equal dollop of The Flanagan Brothers’ poise, and some surprises too. Testosterone abounds in the rugged and exciting tune sets performed at 90MPH. They swing the pulse easily with one eye on the dance floor and the other on the metronome – steady as the proverbial rock.

Musically the highly rhythmic style recalls Four Men And A Dog and North Cregg, with accordion, fiddle and banjo blazing a trail behind some precise and suitably zingy guitar backing. The song choice is intriguingly different to most groups, concentrating on the American contemporary folk songbook. Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice is rendered at a sprightly gallop by Mick, with a bright bluegrass banjo break included. The only time they slow down is for James Taylor’s Fire and Rain – a judicious choice complete with brooding string arrangement and pensive vocal from Mick Healy. This and Brian Finnegan’s 7/8 Marga’s Moment show the band’s versatility and prove that it is not a one paced dance music machine.

Round #1 is a promising beginning for an exciting energetic young band that also possesses a startling degree of accomplished maturity. Check it out.

John O’Regan The Living Tradition