Here's a funny thing about the universe. Not only is everything relative, like Einstein said, but also most things are morally relative, and it's only in the details that sense is found, or made. Which is a grandiose way of introducing the confluence of lands and sounds and notions that compose the latest chapter in the story of the Three Jacks. One year ago, an earthquake measuring 8.0 on the moment magnitude scale ruined parts of southwestern Peru, a nation where 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, where the public water will sicken you, where concern in the rest of the Americas seems as far removed as, say, Galway or Dublin.
And here's the beginning of the confluence: Two years ago, three jacks walked into a bar. Henk "Jack" Milne (of the Volunteers), Jack Stamates (of Avalon), and Jack Shawde (of The Diane Ward Band) spontaneously formed a trio to replace some had-to-cancel act during a fest at the since-shuttered Main Street Café in Homestead. Milne says the impromptu show was such a kick, and the reaction of the packed house so enthusiastic, that a permanent arrangement made sense.
Taking the name the Three Jacks, the group continued the vibrant tradition of Celtic rock that had made Milne's band, the Volunteers, a favorite in South Florida since the early Nineties. They were soon invited to play an Irish festival in the Keys, and enlisted another local star, Diane "Jill" Ward, to play drums. (Although noted as a singer-songwriter, Ward began her musical endeavors as a drummer and has retained, and maintained, her powerhouse percussive skills over the years as a member or guest of various bands and performers.)
The lineup was now solidified — Milne on guitar and vocals, Shawde adding guitars and other strings, Stamates providing fiddle and what Milne calls "a Medieval orchestra's worth" of instruments (crumhorn, rebeck), and Ward on drums. The Jacks then brought in guests such as Iko-Iko bassist Mitch Mestel and erstwhile Volunteers Homer Wills (harmonica, bagpipes) and Barbara Drake (penny whistle) to record a remarkable batch of tunes released under the title Treachery, Lust & Misfortune. A second Jill, much-sought-after veteran bassist Debbie Duke, since signed on as the fifth member.
The album is a lively and beautifully crafted indulgence (with superproducer Looch Delgado at the boards) in the reeling, pealing sounds of Ireland filtered through the global rock sensibilities of the players. It kicks and bounces like a hurley swinger after a bucket of Jameson and more than a bit o' the bitter, without sacrificing high art or inducing any sort of sonic hangover.
While this music can be enjoyed as boisterous and blatant, there's actually a deep confluence (yes, another one) at work. Songwriting chieftain Milne knows his Éire airs, but prefers something more jiggy, adding the bone-crush and foot-stamp of his previous band to reworkings of traditional tunes as well as Volunteers material ("18th-century folk songs we wrote last week," he calls 'em). The Jacks draw comfortably from the slightly mad baroque folk of Turlough Carolan (1670-1738) and from Elizabethan dance tunes (at Stamates's insistence) to create stuff the Pogues (an inevitable comparison) wish they'd written.
All of which, with the addition of fleet-footed step dancers from the celebrated Breffni Academy, should go over at a series of fundraising shows beginning in Miami and continuing in Peru. This odd mix of lands, sounds, and notions began incubating a year ago. Milne was jetting back to his Miami home from Lima at the same time Volunteers pennywhistler Drake was flying with her family to their new home in the Peruvian capital. (She will join the tour in Peru as the third Jill.) Three days later, on August 15, 2007, the earthquake hit, killing more than 500 people, injuring thousands, and destroying nearly 60,000 homes. Misfortune would be an understatement; the treachery comes in the form of reported malfeasance and bureaucracy that has sapped donations and hindered relief efforts.
Milne has been careful to avoid such leeching by working with a number of organizations and individuals in both Miami and Peru. A secured trust and nonprofit charity have been established with the help of the Angels with a Mission Foundation. The goal is to raise $250,000 for the Peruvian American Medical Society to build medical centers in Pisco and Chincha, two of the hardest-hit cities in Peru. Perhaps confluences happen for a reason, after all.