ALBUM REVIEW: GHOSTTOWN COMPANY- ‘FolkRock’ (2017)

An original German band with their debut album a mix of modern day folk-rock but steered by traditional influences of Irish-Celtic music and American country music.

Not long ago in the summer of 2015, as tends to be the way with these things, two mates with an interest and a background in both folk and rock bands decided they wanted to combine the two and get a band together. With a handful of shows booked they set out on the search for fellow enthusiasts and having quickly agreed on the name Ghosttown Company they roped in a few acquaintances and the search was completed in October 2015. The band’s name describes the places left behind by the Irish during ‘The Great Hunger’ in the mid 19th century when millions were forced to leave Ireland in search of survival and a better life. Rehearsals soon followed culminating in a successful debut local gig in Saarbrücken. Not wasting any time at all the Bhoys took to the recording studio making their first Demo and after a further run of accomplished gigs the band signed a contract with Prosodia publishing company and so it has been a short journey to their debut album the rather aptly titled FolkRock, released in July this year.

Now celtic-punk and all things Irish are incredibly popular in Germany and we have gone over this several times including recently with reviews of albums by Restless Feet, Pitmen, Jamie Clarke’s Perfect The Distillery Rats and The Crooks And The Dylans. Here in England the celtic part of celtic-punk is often underplayed and many bands while actually playing celtic-punk and using Irish and Celtic tunes persist in calling their music folk-punk or attribute the said Irish tunes as English. This special affinity that German’s hold for the Irish means they don’t fall for such bullshit and hypocrisy and they completely go for the Irish/Celtic part and this makes the German scene one of the best in the world. Time and time again when I have met German folk I have been impressed by their knowledge of Irish culture, music and history. That Celtic are by far the most popular foreign team among German football supporters is testament to that affinity. There are several theories for this but my guess is that the Germans love a drink and a good party so it makes perfect sense for them to team up with the Irish. That and maybe perhaps a grudge against a certain nation as well has brought us together?

Ghosttown Company are not unusual among the German celtic-punk scene in that they play mostly acoustic folk music. Yes with the spirit of punk but this is celtic-punk played under the influence of Country, Americana and rock whilst butting shoulders with traditional Irish and Celtic songs. The album starts with ‘Shooting Star’ and they kick off with the album’s top song. Catchy is surely the most overused word when reviewing things so instead of repeating it throughout just assume every song is ‘catchy’ it will save us both time. The European celtic-punk bands love the flute and I am a late comer to the brilliance of this instrument (thank Firkin for my conversion) and it works wonders here. ‘Far Away’ is up next and is a more solid rock number with saxophone and chugging guitar driving it along. Now I’m not sure if the world needs another version of a famous folk trad classic and here it is ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ that gets the folkpunk treatment. Since the advent of recorded music the same songs have popped up for a reason and it’s a little rich to slate modern day celtic-punk bands for it when my Mammies record collection from the 50’s/60’s/70’s must have a thousand different versions of maybe 5 or 6 songs in it. More Dubliners than Thin Lizzy needless to say it’s a great cover and the Bhoys do it justice playing it with a hoe-down twist with added “Yee-Hars” and pub soundtrack. So far the band that is in the back of my head are The Men They Couldn’t Hang and on ‘Plastic World’, the LP’s longest song, you can hear it as well as feel it with the lyrics of the song. That ‘English’ influence continues with next track ‘Clowns In A Game’. One of the album highlights is the outstanding ‘Greenlands’ which takes us on a mesmerising journey through Ghosttown Company’s musical abilities. The music swirls and twines building up and up before relaxing again and repeating. The whole band plays their part and this must surely be a huge live favourite. While they can cut loose you also get the feeling that some songs like the following, ‘Going Down’, would benefit from the same and bit of ‘anarchy’. Another celtic-punk classic next with ‘Black Velvet Band’ and bands love this as it’s slow build up gives them a chance to go f**king mental when the chorus comes along. Not here though and the song is quite restrained with some excellent mournful saxophone and again the band take’s trad material and manages to do something a little different with it to give it their own stamp. The accordion and the mandolin lead us into ‘Hell You Know’ and another standout song that flows magnificently along. This is music that is perched halfway between folk and rock and the past and present and while it won’t scare your Grandparents it is still thoroughly thigh slappingly great. A visit to Ireland is recalled next in ‘Island Of The Green’ and the autobiographical story of how Ghosttown Company frontman and songwriter Chris fell in love with Ireland and all things Irish things on their first visit to Dublin. Music, alcohol and good times in the four corners of Ireland put to catchy (sorry!) country tinged Irish folk’n’roll. The last cover is ‘Spanish Lady’ and one of my favourite songs of all time. Now I can only remember this being covered in the celtic-punk world by Shane MacGowan And The Popes. It may be a tad restrained compared to that version but again they nail it and the thigh slapping continues unabashed!

The curtain comes down on FolkRock with ‘A Lost One’s Ballad’ and its a great way the close down. Slow and delicate and proof these guys can play a tune. Every celtic-punk album needs at least one of these songs and I have seldom heard better.

These Bhoys are brand new to the celtic-punk stage and are a more than welcome addition to it. As with many, many bands out there there is no stereotyping here (well maybe just a tiny little bit!) just a love of all the things that make us as humans great. These are things that the Irish are famous for but by no means solely confined to the Irish race. Generous, kind, faithful, hospitable, passionate and devoted while at the same time managing to be pretty well f**ked up as well and I get the sense that Ghosttown Company here are wise to that. The traditional songs here are solid renditions but gone are the days when celtic-punk bands were judged on their covers and with nine of the album’s twelve songs penned by the band themselves it bodes very well for them. Although here what I have done is actually pigeonhole them they were a band I found quite hard to do so. Now unique is not a word bandied around in celtic-punk circles very often, after all a lot in the scene does sound a bit ‘samey’ to put it mildly, Ghosttown Company have managed to come up with something different and show they are never just another Irish covers band and with this great debut behind them they are set for a great future.

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