Images of the American West are spread throughout the compelling new folk and Americana album, Down in the West Volume 2, from California songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Kyle Alden. Rivers running on, old growth redwoods, falling-down barns, horse stables... But there are really two Wests in this album: the Pacific coast of America and the West of Ireland, the sources of many of Alden’s musical inspirations. Here he blends the two worlds effortlessly, pulling additional ideas from that other source of Irish-influenced Americana: Appalachia. These three cultural touchstones all share the same rugged, pioneer landscape, reflected clearly in Alden’s music. Here, rough-and-tumble County Kerry Irish polkas, original and traditional, rub shoulders with newly composed cowboy songs that speak of the loss of the American West. Throughout, Alden’s wry sense of humor and rich folk baritone carry the songs into interesting new territory, pushing the tradition away from a sense of somber history and into a place that speaks to our modern world with old words.
In making Down in the West Volume 2, Kyle Alden brought great musical friends together in the San Francisco Bay Area. American Irish fiddler Athena Tergis (Riverdance, Green Fields of America) joins in on the tunes, along with San Francisco acoustic music vets like folk singer Rory McNamara, pianist David Smadbeck, pedal steel player Robert Powell (Peter Gabriel, John Lee Hooker), bassists Scott Thunes (Frank Zappa, The Waterboys, The Mother Hips), and Paul Eastburn (Spark & Whisper). These players join Alden’s own instrumental and vocal work on the album, which features him playing mandolin, tenor banjo, guitar, and bass. The songs on the album are drawn from a wide variety of sources. Alden’s original songs, like the twang-heavy folk song “Better Than New,” the Irish dancehall delight “The Nancy Song,” or the evocative ballad “Fall Day Gone,” combine with songs from traditional sources, like the Appalachian and Irish classics “Sail Away Ladies” and “Sam Hall,” or rarer sources, like the beautiful song “George’s Street” from San Francisco Irish songwriter Vince Keehan. In a nod to Alden’s 2011 album, Songs from Yeats’ Bee-Loud Glade, which featured the poetry of W.B. Yeats’ set to song, here Alden resets a poem from British poet W.H. Auden in a rolling folk-rock setting.
Down in the West Volume 2 is a snapshot of the wide-roaming mind of Kyle Alden, both as a songwriter and as a tunesmith/instrumental musician. The album effortlessly blends American and Irish traditions in a setting so natural that the listener would be hard-pressed to find where one tradition ends and the other begins.