Duo takes unusual approach to Irish folk music
At first glance, local Irish folk duo "The Morton Street Irregulars" brings together a set of genres and influences that seem incongruent with one another.
While both musicians share a passion for Irish music, 25-year-old classically-trained violinist Joey Otto takes a lyrical, melodious approach, while 60-year-old "child of the 70s" fiddler Gordon Hall takes on a style influenced by jazz and progressive rock.
Yet, more than a decade of playing together has allowed the two to embrace their particular styles and seamlessly blend them into an unusual take on Irish folk.
"After playing together for … 15 years, we have just this incredible musical chemistry," Otto said. "Like I know that I can go anywhere and he'll follow and vice versa, and we just exist in … great harmony."
While the band has been dormant for years while Otto left town for college, the Morton Street Irregulars have teamed up again and will play one of their first shows May 26 at Coffee Cottage, 808 E. Hancock St.
The two met in the early 2000s when Otto moved to Newberg with her family and began taking violin lessons from Hall, who was himself classically trained in his youth but dove into traditional Irish music in his early 20s.
The two eventually started playing together and named themselves the Morton Street Irregulars, an homage to Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes tales and the "Baker Street irregulars," a band of street children Holmes uses as his intelligence agents in the stories. In addition, the two played with local Irish folk band Roughly Hewn.
While the band was largely on hiatus since Otto attended college, her return has spurred them to start playing again, with plans to add a drummer to the group and create a website.
Despite having started out as teacher and student, both Otto and Hall said they are now equals, with each having their own individual strengths.
"We have our different levels of expertise, but she's technically in many respects a better violinist than I am," Hall said. "I specialize a lot more in the traditional fiddling side of things, so I have a few tricks up my sleeve, but she's very technically adept … she has a great classical, lyrical, melodic sound that I don't even try to come close to – we'd all be just disappointed," he concluded with a sigh.
The way they combine those different styles and skills in Irish music makes for an unconventional sound.
"What that means with the music is that when we play up-tempo stuff, it cranks pretty hard," Hall said. "She likes to play fast and I like to play loud."
Additionally, the band takes a different approach to the normal structure of combining similar Irish tunes into a set. Otto explained that with one set they slow down what is a normally an up-tempo reel to an "eerie, lilting" rhythm before launching into a fast-pace jig, "which is not a very traditional way to do things."
"One of the things I like doing is messing with that format a little bit and really taking people on a journey," she said.
While both Hall and Otto specialize in violin, don't be surprised if Hall picks up a viola, bouzouki or a guitar and Otto switches to viola or electric violin.
The duo will take the stage at Coffee Cottage at 7 p.m. May 26.