Dorset based six-piece celtic-punk band Black Water County’s debut album for this reviewer is as good as ANYTHING to be released this year. Music to proper “beat up the floor to” !!
Sandwiched between album releases by such celtic-punk greats such as the Dropkick Murphys, The Real McKenzies, The Tossers and Flatfoot 56 is this wonderful album by one of the best bands in the English scene Black Water County. Truly it’s no exaggeration to say that Taking Chances will be neck and neck with the aforementioned bands come the end of the year Best Of poll’s. Formed in Dorset, on the English south-coast, back on St Patrick’s Day in 2013 they celebrate only their 4th anniversary this year and in that time they have the folk/celtic-punk scene here alight and with this album hopefully their popularity will spread beyond these shores. Dorset and the surrounding area has been a mecca for celtic style punk bands for well over a decade with a whole host of bands plying their trade. People may think that London is some hot bed of celtic-punk activity but truth be told the real powerhouse is down there on the south coast of England! Most of them are gone now but several fantastic bands are still playing in each others backyards and all support each other with a friendly rivalry that most music scene’s could only dream of.
(debut EP Welcome To The Black County)
With basically the same line up since day one it’s not just the music that holds these Bhoys and Ghirl together but also the bonds of friendship. Famed for their energetic live show and their stout quaffing, banjo breaking, tin whistle mangling music Black Water County ‘s busy schedule seems them gigging away all over the south of England and building up an army of fans that sees many sold out and packed out shows along the way. They have two releases under their belts thus far with their debut EP Welcome To The Black Water County coming out in 2013 and following it up in 2014 with The Fellowship Of The Craic. Both achieved a high level of critical success from the celtic-punk media and around Dorset and has left us all eagerly awaiting Taking Chances to see if it’s as good as we are hoping.
(follow up EP The Fellowship Of The Craic)
The album kicks off with ‘Start Something New’ and right from the very first seconds you know it’s Black Water County. Released as the second single from the album a couple of weeks ago it’s fast, it’s furious, it’s fun and it’s f’ing brilliant as well. Everyone in the band gets a chance to showcase what they do and they do in every single song. Tim’s vocals suit the music perfectly with a voice that can easily switch between the punkier tunes to the more subtle celtic songs with ease.
(video filmed and edited by Marriane Harris)
Andy’s drumming is loud but not obtrusive and keeps the music flowing while the rest of the band swirl around and in between it. ‘The Painful Truth’ is slower but still the drumming gives it that punky edge without being over the top. A track that on the face of it owes much to Flogging Molly but when i really listened to it sounds nothing like them but a whole lot like Black Water County. They definitely inhabit the Molly’s side of celtic-punk rather than the Dropkick Murphys but they have managed to carve out a sound of their own within a scene that does sometimes lack in originality. What have been the Irish musical influences that have seen them get here is a question for another day but BWC haven’t just downed the Flogging Molly songbook and regurgitated it that’s for sure. Shan gets her first chance on the album to shine vocally sharing vocals with Tim on ‘Way Down Low’ and Gavin’s mandolin is the other star of this song. Expertly played and one of the features of this band live is watching his fingers as he plays with steam coming off them!
They don’t let the speed drop off for a second and I can attest that they are like this live as well. No time to breathe as they sweep through. On ‘If Only You Were Here’ Shan sings alone while Bradley and Tim hammer their guitar and bass in the album’s punkest song. Well you think they gonna follow this up with a ballad but the slow start is just a con and before long their thrashing away again with tin whistle dominating ‘Rise and Fall’. We at the half way point now and no sign of ‘The Irish Rover’ either. ‘One More Beer Won’t Hurt’ was the first song to be released from Taking Chances and quite rightly takes it’s place as the standout track of the whole album. Not to say there is much in it as every song here could take that title at one time or another.
Again this is classic Black Water County and they are doing in without sounding like anyone else. Tim’s voice again stands out in this joyful song and the bands lyrics are told in that story telling way we love here in London Celtic Punks. The right mix of humour and seriousness certainly belies Tim’s youth though that beard does make him look older! Re-recorded from the single version I do think it misses Shan on backing vocals but that’s only a minor gripe. Finally we get a ballad with ‘Memories from Another Life’ and it’s long been established that the older celtic-punk fans get the more we like the ballads! Shan is back on lead vocals on the longest song here of five and a half minutes. A country tinged ballad of love and pain and loss. They can’t help themselves and the song speeds up at the end making it something you could imagine Bruce Springsteen 2017 singing. We get a brass section on following song ‘Rambling Johnny’ which chucks in an unexpected ska beat and we are away with what must be a live favourite I’m sure. Had me nodding the head listening to it anyway! ‘No Regrets’ continues with the brass section and the album is getting more and more rockier with a song that could easily get in the set of ska-punk legend’s the Voodoo Glow Skulls.
(not the album version but still great)
We are nearing the end of Taking Chances and it’s been one hell of a ride I can tells you. Penultimate song ‘Under Skies of Black and Blue’ slows it down for about five seconds and they seem to determined to go out fighting with another fast as hell country tinged celtic-punk song. The only band member here who so far hasn’t received a mention is fiddle player Russell and I hope I don’t embarrass him now by heaping ten tonnes of praise onto his shoulders. Simply fantastic playing all the way through this album. Where required the fiddle comes through loud and clear and those other times when it needs to step back again and let other instruments and voices shine it is just perfect. Taking Chances ends with ‘Seeing Is Believing’ and finally the auld fogies among us get that ballad we awaiting. Just Tim and acoustic guitar and some great positive lyrics about picking yourself up and carrying on. Some tin-whistle and understated fiddle joins in but its Tim here who leads.
Well what to say. Eleven songs that comes in at a very healthy forty-three minutes of original tunes played by a band who haven’t copied or aped anyone to get where they are. Coupled with the fact that these are some of the nicest people I have ever met through the music scene what we have here is the first installment of a band set to go onto legendary status. Yes this album is that good. From beginning to end not a bum note or a tiresome song. Each track is superb and shows a band that works together to achieve such a great sound. There are no leaders here just a bunch of friends working together to bring some of the best Irish/celtic-punk rock to your ears as is possible, despite that competition, in 2017!
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