When the Celtic quartet Burning Bridget Cleary went on hiatus in November, frontwoman Rose Baldino had only to look across her kitchen table for the next chapter of her musical life.
Baldino, and her new husband, Brian Buchanan, had already started making neo-Irish music together professionally in the side project House of Hamill back in 2015. And with Buchanan’s Canadian Irish group, Enter the Haggis, toning down its touring schedule, the time was right to take the duo to the next level.
House of Hamill is currently on a national tour that will stop at the Roxbury Performing Arts Center, Sunday, April 29, for the Riverside Rhythm & Rhyme Songwriter Series, as well as Rockwood Music Hall in New York City May 5, 2018, and the Steel City Coffee House in their current hometown of Phoenixville, Pa., May 11, 2018.
“We’d been together for 12 years and had a really good run,” Baldino said of the award-winning Burning Bridget Cleary, which also featured her father, Lou, on guitar. “We all wanted to move on and try other things. I would never say no to getting back together and putting a show together, but for now, we’re on indefinite hiatus.”
In addition to the tour, Baldino and Buchanan have been finishing up their second album together. Their first, “Wide Awake,” which was released in 2016, showed off their fiddle skills as well as their writing prowess and made many “Best of 2017” lists. The album is a collection of loud and unusual original Celtic and folk-influenced rock songs and instrumentals.
“A lot of our music sounds like a real cross-section of the two bands, Bridget Cleary and Enter the Haggis. But the new project we’re using as an excuse to try some new stuff,” said Buchanan, over the phone, while awaiting the arrival of accordion player Corey Purcell (from Poor Man’s Gambit) to record a couple of tracks in their home studio in Phoenixville.
“There are still some traditional Irish elements,” Baldino added. “But some of the songs take inspiration from bands we grew up with. We always mention Radiohead, because we’re both such huge fans. But also The Shins and Lana Del Ray.”
In a definite experimental departure, one track on the new album has Baldino covering Heart’s “Magic Man.”
Even though Baldino isn’t Irish and Buchanan is only a small part Irish, they first came to Celtic-style music the same way — looking for something to ease the boredom of their musically classical upbringings. So somewhere along the way, their violins became fiddles.
“We both came from similar backgrounds. We’re both classically trained on violin. But around 13 got bored and started looking for something new and exciting,” Baldino said.
Buchanan actually revolted against classical and Celtic as a teen. “I told my friends in high school I would die before playing in a Celtic rock band,” he said. He’s been in Enter the Haggis for 15 years now.
Clearly, Baldino and Buchanan were heavily influenced by the music of their parents — the ground-breaking English folk-rock groups like Fairport Convention, Pentangle and Steeleye Span.
Living in Phoenixville, near Philadelphia, is special for Baldino and Buchanan since that’s where they met 10 years ago when Burning Bridget Cleary and Enter the Haggis were both playing the historic Colonial Theatre. The two bonded over a love of Irish fiddle tunes, Radiohead and 4 a.m. whiskey.
“For two longtime road warriors, we’ve kind of come full circle,” Buchanan said.
Their paths crossed a dozen times over the next decade on the road, but it wasn’t until the Folk Alliance 2014 Conference in Kansas City that they finally became musical collaborators. Burning Bridget Cleary’s guitarist and drummer had their flights canceled at the last minute, and Baldino asked Buchanan to grab a guitar and join her onstage.
The two performed with virtually no rehearsal for over an hour, and their connection was powerful and immediate.
A few months later Buchanan moved from Canada to Philadelphia, and as a tribute to the first song Baldino ever taught him, House of Hamill was born, named after an old Irish dance tune by 19th-century Irish-American musician/composer Ed Reavy.
Married almost a year and together as a couple for three and a half years, Buchanan and Baldino already have experienced some of the challenges of their dual existence.
“It’s hard to change hats quickly,” Buchanan said. “We’re business partners running a business. Then we realize we’ve been doing that for three days straight … and we have to step back.”
“It can be hard to turn it off and remember we’re a couple,” Baldino said.
Baldino and Buchanan, with 25 years of writing and performance experience between them, represent the new wave of Celtic music. Together, they write unusual new fiddle tunes and exciting, unpredictable original songs, while breathing new life into traditional and contemporary songs.
Whether House of Hamill is playing songs from their two albums or stomping through a set of original jigs and reels, their chemistry onstage is always engaging and often hilarious.
You’ll leave with tired feet, a huge smile, and a new appreciation for the versatility of folk instruments in a modern context. House of Hamill is on the bleeding edge of a new generation of traditional musicians.
Riverside Rhythm and Rhyme is an eclectic coffee house/listening room, showcasing local and regional independent artists. This monthly outreach performance songwriter series is presented by the Skylands Songwriters Guild in cooperation with the Roxbury Arts Alliance.
Story by Robert Price, New Jersey Herald