Take a ride with the Donegal X-Press

September 25, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

FREDERICK, Md. -- Donegal X-Press makes music that straddles the Atlantic, with one foot in Nashville and the other

in Ireland.

But there's no identity crisis here.

Donegal stains its American-roots-rock sound with Irish-style music. The end result, says founder and frontman Brad Dunnells, is something closer to alt-country.

Donegal X-Press will perform in Frederick tonight, the last show in the city's Alive @ Five music-and-happy-hour series along Carroll Creek. Two of the band's members, fiddler Skye Malcom and harmonica player Jason Tinney, are from Frederick.

Two of the band mates trace their ancestry to Ireland, Dunnells says.

Based in Baltimore, the six-piece band has gone from gigging as a performing arts spoof -- an improv-style, Irish, vaudeville sketch that evolved from band mates' theater-major days at Towson University -- to a bona fide band that prioritizes musical integrity over entertainment value. In the late 1990s, Donegal built a following at Mick O'Shea's Irish Pub, a Charles Street bar in Baltimore, and has since recorded several albums and gained respect from music critics in Irish and roots-music circles.


Dunnells says the band would like more exposure.

While the band is getting spins on college radio and listener-supported stations, they're not getting much love from bigger commercial stations -- one of the drawbacks of being unsigned, Dunnells said.

About The Donegal X-Press

Lead vocals, guitar -- Brad Dunnells

Fiddle -- Skye Malcom

Harmonica -- Jason Tinney

Bass guitar -- Jeff Malcom

Drummer -- Jeff Trueman

Keyboard -- Laura Hein

Genre: Alt-country, Irish-American roots music

Home: Baltimore


Q&A with Brad Dunnells,
from The Donegal X-Press

How often do you guys get to Ireland?
I just got back last week. I was there about 10 days with my wife. We were in the Galway, Connemara, region. We weren't there with the band. The last time the band was there was in 2002 or 2003. We went over there for a competition to promote peace in Northern Ireland. It was great. We ended up winning. We were the first American band to win. The Songs for Peace Contest, was the name of it.

What was the reception like? Was it different from here in the states?
It was very warm. It was kind of a different setting, being a festival, so everyone was really excited about seeing you. On a tour, you're really trying to market your band to a crowd that may or may not know about you.

I've heard that Irish fans and American fans like different things. What was your experience coming from America to Ireland?
They were interested in American roots music. They wanted to hear Allman Brothers stuff.

There are some obvious country influences in your songs, though there are points where you seem kind of anti-(country). What's the deal with that?
I'd say we do alt-country. Not so much polished Nashville. ... You're pretty much going to hear the meat and potatoes of American music: blues, rock and country.

I know alt-country has a home out here in Western Maryland. What's it like in Charm City?
There's a big love for singer-songwriter stuff. There's definitely a body of people who like it here.

So what's next for The Donegal X-Press?
We haven't done an album in a couple of years. The last one was in 2007, but that was more like an EP. I think we're going to take some time to rebrand ourselves, really go more in the direction of alt-country.

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