the raw and uninhibited aggression of folk-punk with the authentic yet explosive renditions of traditional Celtic tunes
Well here we are with our first album review of 2015 and luckily for me its one of my all-time celtic-punk favourites Jasper Coal. They may not be a name known to too many of you but by Jiminy they ought to be. Highly innovative and super original they encapsulate everything that is good within the scene. They have total respect for the origins and the roots of the music they play and boy do they play it extremely well!
Formed on St Patricks Day in 2004 Jasper Coal performing sea shanties and Irish drinking songs around their hometown they now celebrate their eleventh year with the release of ‘Just The One…’ their fourth album release and yet again they’ve plundered folk and traditional music’s back catalogue and come up with an album of covers that simply bristles with energy, passion and emotion.
Based in Birmingham the capital of the state of Alabama in the southern United States, the band’s name was inspired by stories of those Irish immigrants who worked in and around the coal mines in central Alabama in the mining town of Jasper. The discovery of coal along Alabama’s rivers can be traced back to 1815 and has gone on to influence Alabama and its development right up to the present day. Worked like dogs in terrible conditions and then thrown aside when the job or the miners body is done seems to be the lot of the miner internationally. Wherever a coal mine can be found then exploitation and desperation can be found soon after. Out of this working class life then came Jasper Coal a group of lads of Irish and Scottish desent and a willingness to take our forefathers music and give it a modern yet traditional twist and stamp it with a massive Jasper Coal brand!
Their debut album ‘Immigrant Child’ came out in 2008 followed in 2010 by ‘1000 Feet Closer To Hell’ which hit the dizzy heights of number 13 in the London Celtic Punks Top Twenty Celtic Punk Albums Of All Time (here). An absolute belter of an album which began my love affair with this great band. The album featured their first original song named after the album and describing the miners life brilliantly as well as a fantastic cover of the The Pogues rowdy drinking song ‘The Boys From The County Hell’. Third album ‘Drowning The Shamrock’ came out in 2012 and even though with each album release their acclaim has risen they still deserve to be heard much more high and wide.
This album kicks off with ‘Tell Me Ma’ and even though its been covered by all and sundry JC still manage to give it a kick up the arse. Starting with a simply fantastic pipe intro the first thing to say about this album is that all the way through Ryan’s piping is majestic and is easily as good as anything you’ll ever hear on a celtic-punk album. Matt is the only original member left from Jasper Coals original incantation as The Immigrants and his distinctive vocal style and voice add bucketloads to the music. There’s many a electric band that wish they could kick up a storm like these fella’s I’m sure. ‘Paddy 15’ is an update of ‘Poor Paddy’ the Dubliners/Pogues classic. Again the band nail it with this story of a immigrant Irishmans life breaking his back digging the rail in his new home. ‘The Glass Of Beer Set’ is a traditional song with bagpipes leading the way and excuse me while I gush over the piping again here but it is immaculate. A fantastic song sure to get even the mardiest of people tapping their toes and slapping their sides. ‘My Son John’ is an Irish trad song set during the Peninsular War of the early nineteenth century. Based upon ‘Mrs McGrath’ the song tells the sad story of a Irish woman whose son enters the British Army and returns seven years later having lost his legs to a cannonball while fighting against Napoleon. A sad fate that befell far too many Irish over the years. Jasper Coal have never shied away from doing what may be considered ‘controversial’ songs over here but are probably standards over there in the States. ‘Snipers Promise’ is a modern Irish rebel song and is played very simply with acoustic guitar and Matt’s voice singing delicately the story of an IRA sniper who longs for the day when he can retire and lay down his gun.
“Oh mama, oh mama comfort me
For I know these awful things have got to be
But when the war for freedom has been won
I promise you I’ll put away my gun”
What many don’t realise is those men who fought were not professional soldiers they were ordinary people who rose to face the challenge of defending their communites and their country. A lovely song with a chorus that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. They crank it up to eleven next with what many consider to be Flogging Molly’s best ever song ‘Devils Dance Floor’ and they deliver a version the Molly’s would be proud of. JC have never been solely about Ireland and have often done Scots songs and ‘Bennachie’ is one of the album’s stand out tracks. Bennachie is a range of hills in Aberdeenshire.
“Gin I were whaur the gaudie rins
The gaudie rins, the gaudie rins
Gin I were whaur the gaudie rins
At the back o’ Bennachie”
Some believe that the peak had religious meaning and this theory is supported by the large number of standing stones in the area. The significance is believed to be connected to the profile of the hill, which is shaped like a female breast, which is reflected in the name ‘Mither Tap’ (Mother Top) or ‘Bennachie’ (Beinn na Ciche: ‘hill of the breast’). Extremely catchy with fiddle and pipes and drums and guitar combining perfectly. They follow this with honorary Celt Steve Earle’s fantastic ‘Copperhead Road’. If you’re looking for story telling song writing then check out Steve’s back catalogue. This great song tells the story of a moonshiner who joins the Army
“They draft the white trash first round here anyway”
and ends up fighting in Vietnam and brings his experience home and instead of moonshine grows marijuana on his farm in Tennessee.
Next is the classic Irish rebel song (Come Out You) ‘Black And Tans’. A rousing, fist in the air song that has inspired many over the years and is absolutely perfect for punking right up. The Black And Tans (so called due to the colour of their uniforms) were mercenarys brought over to terrorise the Irish back in 1919. With the nation rising and the empire on the verge of defeat the British governement decided to import the Tans and give them free reign to terrorise, murder and brutalise the population in an attempt to cowe them into submission. They never succeeded and despite the many atrocities that they were responsible for they were roundly defeated. The song was written by Dominic Behan, brother of Brendan, and is dedicated to his father. Its sure to get yer blood pumping…Irish or not!
“Oh, come out you black and tans,
Come out and fight me like a man
Show your wives how you won medals down in Flanders
Tell them how the IRA made you run like hell away,
From the green and lovely lanes in Killashandra”
The bhoys give it a modern twist with the addition of an extra verse (which I am 100% sure Dominic would applaud) that further nails Jasper Coals views to the mast and good on them for having the balls to do so.
“Oh, come out ye English Huns;
Come out and fight without yer guns;
Show yer wife how you won medals up in Derry
Ye murdered free young men,
And you’ll do the same again,
So get out and take yer bloody army with ye”
One of the many outstanding things about Jasper Coal is the bands playing of Irish gaelic songs. Matt sings ‘Óró Sé’ the albums final track with gusto and reminds me of The Wolfe Tones in a haunting version what with the military style drumming and drone of the pipes. Known under a few different names the title basically means ‘Welcome Home’ and has undergone several re-writes incuding one by the great Irish patriot Padraic Pearse. A fantastic way to bring a fantastic album to a close.
Jasper Coal are one of those rare breed of celtic-punk bands that with the same set of songs would appeal to both fans of punk and trad music. If this album had come out last year it would surely have won the London Celtic Punks Trad Album Of The Year award as well I’m sure as featuring high in the chart for the Celtic Punk Album Of The Year too. Taking the influences of the modern celtic-punk bands and seamlessly blending them with those traditions of those that came before us. A superb band with superb musicians and the first album of the year is already a contender for Album Of The Year!
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