ALBUM REVIEW: CLEAR THE BATTLE FIELD- ‘Set Me Free’ (2016)

Armagh born multi instrumentalist Dominic Cromie and crew with a modern take on traditional Irish music that has something for bloody everyone!

clear-the-battlefield

When talking about celtic-punk people sometimes think of a narrow genre situated somewhere between the two most famous bands to come out of it, The Pogues and The Dropkick Murphys, but when you also throw in Flogging Molly you begin to have a genre that stretches from traditional Irish folk all the way to hardcore punk. I also tend to think of other such diverse artists as Johnny Cash, Tom Waits and even Social Distortion as being an large influence on what we call celtic-punk today in 2016. Clear The Battlefield are no different. Taking Irish and celtic music and mixing it with all sorts of traditions, some old and some modern, all the while putting their own spin on it.

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Clear The Battlefield’s main instrumentalist, vocalist and lyricist is Dominic Cromie. Born in county Armagh in the north of Ireland he first began playing guitar at the age of ten and by eleven had written his first song. He played his first gig at fourteen with his sister Aine who was by then becoming a well know singer on the Irish show band scene. After touring Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales and Holland, Dominic left Ireland for the United States in 1991 to pursue his dream as a singer songwriter. Dominic formed Raglan Road, a Celtic rock band and has toured throughout the States performing with many of the nations best Irish-American bands. After these he formed Clear The Battlefield in 2008 and has been gigging solidly since leading up to this their debut album, Set Me Free.

dominic2The album begins, significantly perhaps, with the only cover on the album,’I Roved Out’. A old traditional folk song covered by all the great and the good in Irish musical history. Confusingly there are two versions of ‘I Roved Out’ but this is the one as popularised by Christy Moore telling the rather common tale of a young woman who is seduced by a soldier, only to find that he has abandoned her the next morning. The album kicks off with a sort of dancey backbeat and my first worry is that it is going to be like those awful techno rebel song medleys that get released every now and then and are used to whip up the drunks in nightclubs across the Irish diaspora. I need not have worried though as its not intrusive and (can I hear myself actually saying this) sounds pretty good.

Anyway pretty soon in the Irish instruments take over and expertly played tin whistle comes in and later the glorious sound of uileann pipes.

“With me too-ry-ay Fol-de-diddle-day
Di-rah fol-de-diddle, dai-rie oh”

Next up is ‘The Valley’ and a slow song but with Dominic’s voice bursting with emotion. He is blessed with a voice that sounds like those old crackly records our Grandparents owned but with the modern touches it easily straddles both worlds of old and new. ‘You’ follows and is a nice love song done as alternative sounding country while ‘Mary’ is back to more folkier territory. We are back next with ‘Set Me Free’. The instrument count rises as Dominic and crew rattle through a somewhat tribal tune. At any second we expect it to fly into complete trad but its just reined back enough. Accompanied by a great video that leaves us in no doubt where Dominic’s heart and passion lies.

The album’s longest track is the instrumental ‘The Rights Of Man’ at over six minutes and begins with an instrument we do not hear enough of in celtic punk those uileann pipes. With Black 47 no more and a long long time since Stephen Gara packed his bags for NYC and left London Irish rockers Neck only Italian band Uncle Bard And The Dirty Bastards are giving us what we want. More pipes! The following songs follow a similar path in that they start off as just guitar and voice before flying off into something else. ‘Get Up’ benefits from a Irish ending while ‘Go’ returns the album to the unconventional country sound we heard earlier.

We even dip into ‘C86’ sounding indie with ‘Even After The Drugs’ that takes in bands like The La’s or Teenage Fanclub. Finally Set Me Free comes to an end with ‘Days Days Days’ a short blast of upbeat jazzyness that is a way cool way to bring the curtain down.

The ten songs clock in at just under forty minutes and if I had a slight, and I mean slight, criticism with Set Me Free it would be that their is perhaps some unnecessary flourishes that don’t really add much to the music. It’s not your typical celtic-punk and sometimes it feels like the most un-celtic-punk celtic-punk album we have ever reviewed here. Nevertheless I thoroughly enjoyed it. The playing here is truly to be marvelled at and regardless of whether it is punk or not will strike a chord with anyone with a love of traditionally played Irish music.

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