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Listen: A Celtic tune that breaks all the rules

Conor Hearn and Maura Shawn Scanlin of the duo Rakish. (Courtesy Dan Jentzen)
Conor Hearn and Maura Shawn Scanlin of the duo Rakish. (Courtesy Dan Jentzen)

This is an exclusive song premiere, part of WBUR's effort to highlight New England musicians.



It was a shared love of restraint that first bonded fiddler Maura Shawn Scanlin and guitarist Conor Hearn. The two met, in 2015, in the Boston-area Celtic session scene, a setting where fast-paced jigs and reels reign supreme. But the pair preferred to take their time with melodies, to play them with care. It was intimacy they were after, not showiness.

The Boston-based duo, who perform as Rakish, have since added more notes to their repertoire. But that foundation of patience and attention to detail remains. “It’s still a very intimate and thoughtful, hopefully, approach to melody,” Hearn says.

Cover art for Rakish's single, "The Lucky One." (Courtesy Irish Music Legends)
Cover art for Rakish's single, "The Lucky One." (Courtesy Irish Music Legends)

Rakish’s new single, “The Lucky One,” might be considered proof of concept. Scanlin, a two-time Scottish National Fiddling Champion who is also an accomplished classical violinist, composed the tune with the aim of pushing beyond the typical two-part structure found in traditional Celtic music. “By adding a third part, or even a fourth part, you have some more possibilities, in terms of harmony and tonal centers, where you can take the tune,” she says. The result is an intricate, zig-zagging melody that dances nimbly across octaves and keys. Guitar and fiddle lock in like puzzle pieces, eschewing their normal roles as lead and backup instruments. The third part of the tune appears only once, a momentary hush that crescendos powerfully and unexpectedly.

“The Lucky One” is the third single off of Rakish’s debut full-length album, “Counting Down The Hours.” The duo recorded it in 2020 in Western Massachusetts with producer Seamus Egan, a renowned name in Irish traditional music. But “Counting Down The Hours” is anything but traditional, or even very straightforward. There are the expected jigs and reels, but also original songs, old-time clawhammer banjo and even two classical pieces reimagined for guitar and violin.

For Scanlin and Hearn, the throughline across disparate sounds is obvious. “The way that we approach a classical piece, working on it, learning it and arranging it, is actually much the same as we would approach a traditional jig or real,” Scanlin says. No matter what genre the duo is playing — Irish, Americana, classical — the goal is the same, she says. “Instead, how can we really create an arrangement that feels like a journey?”


Rakish's "The Lucky One" is out Jan. 14 and the duo's debut full-length album, “Counting Down The Hours,” is out Feb. 4. They play an album release show at Club Passim on Feb. 2.

Note: The audio for WBUR's music premieres comes down after the track is released. You could still listen to the track via the streaming service embed above.

This article was originally published on January 12, 2022.

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Amelia Mason Twitter Arts And Culture Reporter
Amelia Mason is an arts and culture reporter and critic for WBUR.

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