His all-covers album blends traditional Irish sounds and bluegrass for his own take on familiar songs
Irish-born Danny Burns released his all-covers EP, Promised Land, in August, blending traditional Irish sounds and bluegrass for his own take on familiar songs.
On Danny Burns’s right forearm, a tattoo includes a harp and the words “Mise Éire.” It references a century-old poem and translates to “I am Ireland.” Red-headed Burns might wear his heritage on his sleeve, but he’s chosen Charleston as the home base for his family and career.
Burns grew up in the northwestern Ireland city of Donegal, where by age 15, he’d decided to skip college in favor of nightly pub gigs. The 41-year-old’s family briefly lived in the Bronx in the 1980s. When Burns spent a summer caddying at a golf course in New Jersey, gigs for Irish musicians around New York City kept the musician Stateside.
Despite more than two decades of performing and recording, it wasn’t until the mid-2010s that Burns found his authentic sound. He’d made a living playing traditional Irish music—and even recorded a pop/rock album in Los Angeles in 2010—but after connecting with bluegrass musicians Tim O’Brien and Sam Bush through festival bookings and opening performances, he embraced the deep connections between Irish and Appalachian music. “I remember seeing Richard Thompson once, and he said, ‘There’s nothing better than singing your history back to you, as an outsider,’” Burns recalls. “The bluegrass-Celtic-folk thing just felt like a no-brainer.”
The resulting effort, 2019’s North Country, includes heavy contributions from O’Brien, Bush, and Dan Tyminski. A follow-up, 2021’s Hurricane, features an Irish-meets-mariachi rethinking of Steve Earle’s “Mercenary Song” (featuring Earle himself) and a song with Sarah Jarosz.
The success of these collaborations—including regular play on SiriusXM—sparked the idea of an all-covers album. While escaping the pandemic with his family in Cancun, Mexico, Burns strummed through Adele’s “Someone Like You,” which lands the opening spot on Promised Land, released on August 25. “It took two days to nail that vocal,” Burns recalls. “We were chilling out on the beach, strumming a guitar and drinking beer, and I didn’t realize then it was going to be so hard. It was like going to therapy and getting beaten up.” The single, released in late 2022, reached number one on Bluegrass Today’s Grassicana chart (a category that recognizes the hybridization of bluegrass and Americana music).
Other album highlights include acoustic takes on Sting’s “Fields of Gold,” a stripped-down “Magnolia Wind” (Guy Clark) featuring O’Brien, the Oasis anthem “Some Might Say,” and the title track by Willie Nelson.
The concept also allowed Burns to finally record “Danny Boy,” the haunting Irish ballad that’s been a presence throughout his career. “There are so many cheesy versions, but it’s a very moving song,” says Burns. “Tim [O’Brien] played on it, and I was sitting behind the board, just wiping away tears.”
The album also features Burns’s wife, Áine, a fellow singer-songwriter and Donegal native. Although the couple met as children, they reconnected in the US, hopping between Nashville, New Orleans, and Washington DC, prior to settling in Charleston earlier this year, just before the birth of their fourth child.
Burns plans to tour in support of Promised Land this month, including a release show at the Pour House. He’s also connected with the local music community, booking trio gigs around town with notable players such as Steven Sandifer (Dangermuffin) and Bobby Hogg (Reckoning), as well as his Monday-night residency at Prohibition on King Street. Although his Americana-forward approach isn’t typical Irish pub fare, his chops and distinctive lilt are pure Éire.
Watch Danny Burns sing the traditional Irish song “Danny Boy”
Watch Danny Burns sing Adele’s “Someone Like You“