Category Archives: Americana

ALBUM REVIEW: ‘THE HANGMAN’S BLUES: Prison Songs In Country Music 1956-1972 (2016)

Grim tales of jailbirds, cutthroats, cuckolds, executioners, murderers and escapees.  Prison ballads form part of the historic lifeblood of Country Music and saw a resurgence after the 1960 execution of controversial convict Caryl Chessman. Here are some of the very best, seldom heard since their original release. Running the gamut from smooth balladeers of woe to ramshackle and plaintive backyard rockabilly.

While these days your more likely to find your folk music heroes went to Eton with Prince William or all met at Cambridge/Oxford/insert other posh university it’s not always been so. While it’s always been true that the music of the working classes has always been adopted by the well-heeled and the image of the bearded Green Party, Real Ale drinking, middle class ‘leftie’ singing away with his finger in his ear still rings true around the folk clubs. This also explains their reluctance to accept other genre’s like celtic-punk as part of the folk scene as at it’s heart is a snobbery to keep others out at all costs. Folk music was never a static thing with bands and singers always finding ways to keep the music alive and relevant though always with a healthy respect for the past. That the celtic-punk scene can be said to be partly responsible for the popularity of bands long gone like The Dubliners, Clancy Brothers and The Pogues butters no onions with these people who just want to keep things as they were at all costs. Happy to be big fish in small pools! What the artists on this album would make of four faux-ploughboy, waistcoat wearing members of the aristocracy representing folk music I don’t know (have to admit here I DO actually love Mumford And Sons!) but one thing is for sure they wouldn’t last five minutes in the company of people featured here and long to be be forgotten while these days be writ high.

One things for sure it has always been, and always will be, the poor that go to jail. Whether for a crime they freely admit (or not!) or through bigotry and lack of decent representation the jails of the world are full of the poorest of our society. Folk and country music has never been a stranger to the inside of prison walls right from the very start and this stunning compilation covers just about every country music offshoot musically as well as covering just about every reason why you could end up inside. The album opens strongly with ‘The Wall’, written by Harlan Howard, given a powerful performance here by Freddie Hart. Born to a sharecropper family in Alabama Hart left school at 12 but still managed to become one of country music’s biggest stars of the 70’s. I love the sound of the harmonica and there’s plenty of it’s woeful sound to be found here to keep me happy.

“The years gone by since he made his try
But I can still recall how hard he tried and the way he died
But he never made that, wall he never made that wall”

All the tracks were recorded between 1956 and 1972 and although I have heard several prison -themed album’s in the past I seriously cannot remember one that came anywhere remotely close to the quality found here. I could wax lyrical about every artist but this review would then run for pages and pages. Suffice to say that all the artists here know what it means to be hungry and many indeed did cross swords with authorities and some others saw the other side of a prison gate. Tennessee born, early rockabilly star Jaycee Hill’s  fantastic ‘Crash-Out’, is typical of many here with the acceptance and regret of a life of crime. Most of the artists here are American but one of the album highlights is the London born Marty Robbins with his intense performance of ‘The Chair’. Inspired by the controversial execution of Caryl Chessman in 1960.

Chessman was an unsavoury character that much is true and something he was intelligent enough to recognise within himself but he was convicted and charged on a law that was later repealed though not retroactively meaning his death sentence still stood. He became the poster child for the anti-capital punishment cause and the most recognizable face on death row. In May 1960 Chessman choked to death in San Quentin Prison’s gas chamber while the phone outside rang, just too late, with his stay of execution. His story is also dealt with in songs on this album by Country Johnny Mathis, one of the album highlights with its sheer, haunting poetry, Ronnie Hawkins and Jimmy Minor. The full story of Caryl Chessman is also told in a fine performance from Hoyle Miller notable for the last line of his song

“you see I too Hoyle Miller was once too on death row”

Dirt farmer’s son Porter Wagoner gives us a compelling version of the Hank Williams penned ‘(I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle’. Known for his flashy suits and for giving Dolly Parton her big break Wagoner never forgot his working class roots often touring in rural areas where many would not perform and was also famous for his friendly relationship with his fans mingly before, during and after gigs with them. The jauntyness of ‘I Always Did Like Leavenworth’ belies the subject George Kent is singing of. Eddie Noack was a honky tonk singer influenced by Hank Williams and his superb version of ‘Invisible Stripes’ tells of the stigma that jail carries throughout  the rest of your days. Named from the stripes of the uniform prisoners were made to wear. A subject also visited here by Howard Crockett who turned to singing after a shoulder injury ended a promising baseball career. He performs a excellent cover of the famous Johnny Cash penned song ‘I Got Stripes’. Artist jailbirds like Johnny Cash, David Allen Coe and Merle Haggard are notable by their absence but the music that inspired them more than makes up for it. There are simply too many great songs and artists here to give justice to and the album comes to an end with ‘A Prisoner’s Dream’ by Charles Lee Guy III. When he was 16 he was convicted of manslaughter and sent to jail. During his imprisonment he learnt to play guitar and started writing songs. He sent a tape to Capitol Records who were sufficiently impressed to bring their studio equipment to Vacaville Prison in December 1962 to record him. Charles’ album, The Prisoner’s Dream, was well-received and in October, 1963 Time Magazine reviewed the album:

“Charles Lee Guy III has been an inmate of California State Prison since he was 16. The songs he has learned to sing there all reflect his sorry circumstance – and among them is the latest composition of a prison chum, country music’s Spade Cooley [himself a wife killer]. Guy’s woeful voice and guitar accompaniment fit the spirit of his music, and in this remarkable album he has the power of a young white Leadbelly.”

One of the songs on that album was titled ‘Wishin’ She Was Here (Instead of Me)’ thought to refer to his mother who many thought had committed the murder that Charles had been found guilty of. A moving, emotional and chilling way for this album to close.

All the tracks here were first issued on long forgotten 45’s often on obscure, tiny or private-press labels. All are incredibly rare and many are reissued here for the first time since release and are remastered from the original master tapes giving the album a sound that is as clear as crystal. Their are twenty-eight tracks here and just under eighty minutes of music. Pretty much all of the songs come in around the two minute mark and the pacing on the album is also well thought out. Available on vinyl and CD the amount of care put into this album is to be applauded including the incredibly handsome twenty page, full colour booklet that comes with informative liner notes by Alvin Lucia and rare photos and label shots. This amazing package has been put together by Bear Family Records who also gave us Hillbillies In Hell- Country Music’s Tormented Testament, another timeless compilation telling of Satan, drugs, murder, suicide, demonic visions, infanticide and redemption. Their were plenty of prison songs before the era (1956-1972) chosen here on The Hangman’s Blues but these songs begin from the early days of rock’n’roll and though most are straight up country songs all have a dark edge to them, of course, and some have that raw rock’n’roll sound that many of you will love I am sure.

Declarations of innocence, profound diatribes on capital punishment and mournful odes to the Last Mile. The Hangman’s Blues will chill, thrill and bedevil the dreams of all who hear it. Feel the penal pain. Like the album liner notes say…we are all prisoners in one way or another.

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ALBUM REVIEW: BLACK IRISH TEXAS- ‘The Good, The Bad And The Indifferent’ (2017)

Black Irish Texas are not just another Irish punk band. They may be influenced by the giants of the scene but this seven piece brings plenty more to set them apart. With Guinness fueled lyricism Black Irish Texas navigate you between psychobilly and Texas two-step all in one show. With a new album to promote they are touring Europe later this year so I hope you’ll be lucky to catch them.

Now long, long ago before there was Facebook existed a thing called My Space. It was similar in many ways and took off in a way that nothing before it had ever done before. Music orientated it introduced us to bands across the globe who you would never knew even existed. Sadly it was bought by Rupert Murdoch and his massive media empire who from the go set about messing around with the format and ended up destroying it and so everyone left in dribs and drabs and migrated to Facebook which had stolen all the best bits of My Space and well the rest is history. I mention this because the first band I found on my first ever computer on my first visit onto My Space was Black Irish Texas. A bunch of songs that took in all my favourite genres of music and chewed them up and spat back out some of the best music I had ever heard. Psychobilly, punk, Irish, Americana, country all flow through their music and combined with the intelligent and thoughtful and often hilarious lyrics I knew this band was going to be a favourite of mine for a LONG time.

The band hail from the fastest growing city in the Unites States, Austin in Texas. It’s an area famed for it’s vibrant and exciting music scene that has spawned such luminaries as Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison in the 50’s and 60’s through to the hippie days and then punk bands like The Dicks and MDC in the 70’s. More recently it’s been mainly college rock and indie being churned out. In fact the official Austin slogan is ‘The Live Music Capital of the World’ and emerging out of that highly competitive music scene comes Black Irish Texas.

Formed in 2004 and with untold amount of line up changes and trials and tribulations. So many in fact that I have often thought the band were no more but again and again they kept cheering me up with their return. Their debut album To Hell With The King released in 2009 was just about the most perfect celtic-punk album I had heard at the time. Spaghetti western/Americana/punk infused Irish American music that still now feels completely fresh and original. A mixture of brilliant originals and some choice covers of The Pogues and a couple of trad songs, ‘Rocky Road To Dublin’ and an outstanding ‘Come Out Ye Black and Tans showed they were a force to be reckoned with. With a welcome (hic!) sponsorship from Jameson Irish whiskey and growing local support Black Irish Texas began to play further afield and within a few years they had covered most of America gaining devout followers everywhere they ventured.

To Hell With The King was followed by the six track EP An Ode To Saint Cecilia in 2013 and again was received with tremendous reviews. St Cecilia is of course the patron saint of musicians so who better to have on your side in the world’s most competitive music city. Another album followed with Lifetime Problems and Short Term Solutions but as i haven’t heard that one (hint hint) I cannot tell you anything about it!

(here’s the title track from An Ode To St. Cecilia)

Now with a settled line up of some of Austin’s best musicians and with a European tour on the horizon which will take them across Europe as well as back to their ancestral home in Ireland (but alas won’t see them coming to play here in the belly of the beast) things have never looked rosier.

So the new album hits the floor running and shows Black Irish Texas have lost none of their flair for interesting and original Irish music. After all it is Irish music that underpins everything they do. Whatever they throw in that mix at the base of it all is the music of Ireland but distilled through a bunch of Irish-Americans with a list of influences as long as your arm. The Good, The Bad And The Indifferent (great title by the way) begins with ‘G.B.U. Theme’ and is the Black Irish Texas take on the unofficial anthem of their home state. A spaghetti western tune played nice and slow but with tin whistle. They up the tempo next with ‘Ain’t Gonna Last’ and vocalist/guitarist James has a natural voice for celtic-punk and veers nicely between singing and shouting.

(the official video for ‘Ain’t Gonna Last’)

Over in a flash of just 102 seconds it’s fast and furious with the band going at full pelt. Black Irish Texas have never shied away from playing the odd rebel song and it’s no different here with one of the best appearing. ‘Join The British Army’ is a old trad Irish folk song dating right back to Victorian times and concerns a young Irishman who regrets his decision to volunteer for the British army.

“Too-ra loo-ra loo-ra loo,
Me curse upon the Labour blue,
That took me darlin’ boy from me,
To join the British army.

Corporal Sheen’s a turn o’ the ’bout,
Just give him a couple o’ jars o’ stout,
He’ll bate the enemy with his mouth,
And save the British army.

Too-ra loo-ra loo-ra loo,
I’ve made me mind up what to do,
Now I’ll work me ticket home to you,
And fuck the British army”

Now regular readers will know that as much as I love it speedy I’m now getting on a bit and slowing down. Those 8-hour gardening sessions are a thing of the past without a few days recovery so I loved ‘Richcreek’. A slow and ponderous celtic/country instrumental led by the banjo with very nice backing from the rest of the band until the fiddle comes in late on. I love this song, right up my street. The Bhoys turn it on its head next with ‘Yates’. Another top notch song, great guitar and thundering double bass and dynamite banjo and fiddle. One of only a few bands in celtic-punk who use a double bass and boy (or should that be Bhoy) does it work well. The sound is incredible and when played well as it is here by Shannon McMillan then it can make a mediocre song brilliant. Not that Black Irish Texas have to worry about that. James comes in at the end with some vocals but by then the Irish tune has got hold and it is flying. ‘No One’s Having Any Fun’ starts slow with that western feel to it again but soon speeds up and sets Trump in their sights. Most of the anti-Trump protest’s we see are usually of very rich people whining about white privilege (sorry idiots it doesn’t exist) but these guys are actually working class and their protest is sincere and real and not designed to upset their parents or assuage their guilt at being rich. They cover the famous anti-war track ‘And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ next and play it with a gusto that I haven’t heard with this song before. Eric Bogle’s legendary tune takes in folk and rockabilly and while it does seem strange to hear this song in a way you could mosh to it’s still very respectful and James reciting of the lyrics are very clear throughout. The album ends with the imaginatively titled ‘Don’t Too Ra Li To Me’ and they save the best for last with every influence they ever picked up layered on top of an Irish/country tune. The bands famous sense of humour has been missing up till now and they more than make up for it here. Imagine a Irish folk punk  hoe down with James spitting out line upon line that will make you smile and/or shout yourself hoarse!

(here’s a stripped down concert at The Hideaway, Johnson City, Tennessee Aug 2016 of the band playing some old faves and some new album tracks)

So there you are. Eight songs that come in just short of a half hour and every single one a bona fide winner! Black Irish Texas are dead right when they say we should NOT try and pigeonhole them as an Irish pub band. And while it may be (!) possible you will hear them singing ‘Danny Boy’ one day i can guarantee it will be the best fecking version you will ever hear of it. In these times of uncertainty the Irish-American community is safe with bands like this at it’s forefront. Some of the most original celtic-punk music I have heard this year and as 2017 is shaping up as the scene’s busiest ever year that is some compliment.

Buy The Good, The Bad And The Indifferent

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EP REVIEW: FOLLOW THE CROWS- ‘West is East’ (2017)

London based Celtic folk rock/Irish/bluegrass band with hard-driven vocals fused with guitar and mandolin mayhem, underpinned by riotous folk rhythms of rebellion, redemption and downright recklessness!

Formed in August, 2012 Follow The Crows are the latest in a growing line of bands playing in the London Irish-folk scene that have embraced some of celtic-punk’s harder edges. They have been playing regularly around London for a good while but so far apart from coming across them on Facebook we haven’t had the opportunity to check them out live in person as it were. Then this arrived on the doorstep, their new EP released last January and after just a couple of listens they have swiftly risen to the top of the list of bands I want to see.

Follow The Crows (left to right): James Cannon- Vocals, Guitar * Ben Sumner- Mandolin, Banjo, Lead Guitar, Backing Vocals * Dan Ferguson- Fiddle * Lawrence McNamara- Bass, Backing Vocals * Karl Hussey- Drums, Percussion

East Is West is Follow The Crows debut release and begins with the kind of song that our description at the top of this review fits exactly. ‘Lay It Down’ starts with the sounds of the ocean before slowing morphing into a song combining elements of trad Irish, bluegrass and Americana that makes this EP a real winner. Catchy as hell and a real foot tapper.

Extremely well played by very good musicians and while there are no thrashy guitars, or even drums, it’s given that bit of edge by singer, James raspy vocals.

“Freedom songs don’t say anything
When you’re out on you’re own
With those big wheels turning
Those bridges burning
West is east high is low”

They follow this with the soft rock edged ‘As The Night Comes Falling’. Threatening at any minute to go flat out, and part of me does wish they would, but they reign it in and keep it nicely subdued. Coming off here as part Tom Waits- part Mumford with a dash of rock’n’roll it’s another great number. Third track here is ‘Black For The Crows’ and if you’ve ever heard the Murder Ballads album by Nick Cave then that’s the territory we are in here. Great song and though underpinned by Irish/celtic music influences seep in from everywhere.

“They rose up their banners for glory on high
Sounded the bugle beneath the blue sky
‘Freedom will follow when the day is o’er”

The EP comes to an end with ‘Quiet Land Of Erin II’ and for me they save the best for last. Ever so reminiscent of The Waterboys here I think. With James sounding a real ringer for Mike Scott. The vocals are almost whispered while the Crows get plenty of guests in to give the song a real full band sound once it gets going. More proof that Follow The Crows are fantastic musicians and with the songs to match to bring the curtain down.

“Oh father now she said
The curlew and the cuckoo’s fled
Troubled is the heart that you’re hearin’
Oh father now she said
They buried you among the dead
On the quiet, quiet land of Erin”

At the moment East Is West is only available as a digital download for now and priced at a very reasonable £3. It’s a great introduction to the band and if they want to stray away from the London pub circuit then a follow up album of more like this is a necessity and will surely achieve it.

(listen to East Is West by pressing play on the Bandcamp player below)

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CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW: VARIOUS ARTISTS- ‘Steady As She Goes. Songs And Chanties From The Days of Commercial Sail’ (1976)

FREE DOWNLOAD
As performed by Louis Killen, Jeff Warner, Gerret Warner and John Benson
We’ve done it again for you. Here’s another in our Classic Album Reviews- Celtic-Punk Steppin’ Stones series of olde-timey records that deserve another spin in our modern age. Now celtic-punk has several distinct theme’s that every band sing about and one of those is the sea and  Steady as She Goes is an album dedicated to the workers on the sea. That work was undoubtedly hard and very often tyrannical under many a vicious Captain’s rule. The workers said
“a song is as good as ten men”
The songs were used in the manner of field work song’s in the fields and these shanties tell the tales of loneliness, the families these men left behind and the daily hardships of an unkind sea and nautical life. There is some hope though but also about raising anchor with raising anchor with the certain knowledge that you’re heading home. Now read on and download and then sit back and smell the salt air!
In keeping with the ethos of the series here are some raw and evocative recordings of sea shanties whose roots are as obscure as the men who originally sung them. All we can say it that we are lucky that people wrote them down and recorded them otherwise they may have been lost forever. Most of the songs here are recorded a capella without backing but a few feature Louis Killen and his concertina.
There is some harmony and what we know would call gang vocals, but there is no classically-arranged stuff. Some of the songs here I first heard at Primary school when the teachers bored of trying to get the boys to sing hymns would let us sing songs that didn’t require so much of a decent singing voice as a big pair of lungs! These were of course the sanitised versions and I certainly don’t remember singing of whores and wenches much…

1- Paddy Lay Back, (Benson)
2 – Bold Riley, (Jeff Warner)
3 – Rolling Down To Old Maui, (Jeff Warner)
4 – Jolly Roving Tar, (Garret Warner)
5 – Topman And The Afterguard, (Killen)
6 – Off To Sea Once More, (Killen)
7 – Strike The Bell, (Jeff Warner)
8 – Ship In Distress, (Killen)
9 – Blow The Man Down, (Benson)
10 – The Coast Of Peru, (Garret Warner)
11 – All For Me Grog, (ALL)
12 – Shallow Brown, (Garret Warner)
13 – Bring ‘Em Down, (Killen)
14 – Away Rio, (Jeff Warner)

ALBUM SLEEVE NOTES

PADDY LAY BACK: A capstan shanty (used for hauling up the anchor) describing the feelings of a sailor towards his shipmates when landing on a new ship. There are, as well, some terse words concerning the Captain, the Mate, and the agent who got him the job.

BOLD RILEY: A halyard (literally haul on the yardarm) shanty. According to A.L. Lloyd, it got its start in ships carrying sugar and rum from the West Indies to Bristol and Liverpool. “White stocking day” refers to the days when wives would put on their most attractive attire to make their trips to the shipping office for their allotment pay.

ROLLING DOWN TO OLD MAUI: Stan Hugill of Liverpool says that as early as 1820 Maui, one of the Hawaiian Islands (then the Sandwich Islands), was considered “home” by the Yankee sailors who hunted the northern grounds of the Behring Straits for right and bowhead whales. This is an off-watch song, as distinct from a working song, of whalermen longing for the women and weather of better latitudes.

JOLLY ROVING TAR: Frank and Anne Warner collected this song from Mrs. Lena Bourne Fish of East Jaffrey, N.H. in 1941. The vitality of the melody doesn’t hide the feelings of Jack Tar towards the shoreman who loved the sailor when he had money and despised him when he didn’t.

TOPMAN AND THE AFTERGUARD: Conditions in the navies of the world were always bad in the days of sail. Here is the story of the British Royal Navy as told by the afterguard or Marine who worked in the topmast and by the topman or sailor who worked in the ship.

OFF TO SEA ONCE MORE: The most realistic of all songs about the conditions of seafarers under sail. This is what life was like both ashore and at sea.

STRIKE THE BELL: Four hours on watch and four hours off, day and night, was a hard life aboard ship. Eight bells marked the end of the watch, as well as the time, and answered the plea of the sailor for a few moments rest in his bunk, even if the call would soon be “all hands on deck” to weather the storm. The “glass” referred to in the chorus is the barometer.

SHIP IN DISTRESS: One of a number of traditional songs dealing with the terror of a sailor adrift in an unsellable vessel.

BLOW THE MAN DOWN: A halyard shanty with a story line favored by all sailors who had to spend much time away from the ladies.

THE COAST OF PERU: A nearly step-by-step account of the hunting and killing of a whale. The song was collected by Gale Huntington of Martha’s Vineyard, and is thought to date back to the last quarter of the 18th century.

ALL FOR ME GROG: Another off-watch song describing both of the major pleasures of Jack Tar ashore.

SHALLOW BROWN: Another halyard shanty from the West Indies, this one collected by English folklorist Cecil Sharp in the early part of the twentieth century. Some versions of this song indicate that Shallow Brown might have been a slave who was sold to a Yankee shipowner. Free man or slave, he is jumping ship “… to cross them Chili mountains” and seek a better life.

BRING ‘EM DOWN: One of the shanties used for “bracing” the ship when short, sharp pulls of the line were needed. Bracing turned the yards when the ship was being tacked or changing course.

AWAY RIO: A capstan shanty used to ease the work of “heaving a pawl” and raising the anchor. A favorite song of the day, it would have been known by old hands and green recruits alike, and was most often used as the first song of a voyage when outward bound from home port.

The work songs of the sailing ships were “chanteys” or shanties”-both spellings are used, but the pronunciation is always with the soft “sh”. That’s why some experts believe the origin is French from “chanter”, but no one knows for certain.

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 THE PLAYERS

Louis

Louis Killen. (1934 – 9 August 2013) Lou was a Geordie, born and bred in Gateshead, Tyneside and raised in a Irish-Catholic home where singing was a part of everyday life. From Irish ballads to native songs of the area about working class life in the coalfields and stockyards. An accomplished folk singer and concertina player he formed one of Britain’s first folk clubs in 1958 in Newcastle at a time when folk clubs were numbered in the tens. Emigrating to the USA in 1967 he worked with folk legend Pete Seeger before joining The Clancy Brothers. They recorded four albums before he left in the mid 1970’s. He resumed his solo career and a major English tour in 1991 drew large audiences which confirmed that his fine singing had not been forgotten. In 2003 he finally returned to England and passed away still performing to the end ten years later. Towards the end of his life Louis decided to fulfill an almost lifelong desire and came out as a woman called Louisa Jo.

Gerret and Jeff

Gerret and Jeff Warner. Brothers who grew up listening to the songs and stories of his father Frank and the traditional singers his parents met during their folk song collecting trips through rural America and they often accompanied their parents on their field trips throughout rural working class America. Jeff has performed widely, from large festivals in the UK, to clubs, festivals and schools across America while Gerret began a career as an award winning filmmaker before joining his brother on stage to perform.

Fud

John ‘Fud’ Benson. Born in Newport on Rhode Island he grew up sailing the waters of Narragansett Bay. Again from a musical family his interest in sail and song found expression in the traditional music of the sea and this is one of the rare recordings he made. Also very well known as a stone carver and mason who has carve the inscriptions for such iconic monuments such as the John F. Kennedy memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, the Franklin Roosevelt Memorial and the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. In 2007, he received a National Heritage Fellowship the nation’s highest award for excellence in the traditional arts. He is still hard at work in his studio in his home town of Newport.

THE LONDON CELTIC PUNKS ‘STEPPING STONES’ CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW SERIES

This album was brought to you as part of our regular series where we bring you something a little bit different to what you’re maybe use to. Lost or hidden and sometimes forgotten gems from the legends and also unknowns that have inspired and provoked folk music and musicians right up to modern age celtic-punk music. The albums are usually out of print so we can provide a free download link for you.

You can find our Steppin’ Stones page here with the full list of albums to choose from.

ALBUM REVIEW: THE TOSSERS- ‘Smash The Windows’ (2017)

From the predominantly Irish neighborhoods of Southside Chicago The Tossers have been expanding the boundaries of contemporary Irish music since before much better known bands had even begun and have become one of the most popular and successful bands in the worldwide celtic-punk scene.

By Shane O’Neill

tossers

Only a few weeks into 2017 and we have already seen a whole host of fantastic album’s being released onto the scene. The Tossers are celtic-punk heavyweights and they hail from Chicago, Illinois. To be exact they hail from the South of Chicago. This is the part of Chicago that has housed the cities Irish Catholic community ever since they first started arriving from the ‘auld country’. The immigrant history of Chicago is rooted among untold amount of countries and people whose struggles and adversities have led them to the Midwest and to Chicago. From the cities founding in the 1830’s, Chicago has been the final destination for people journeying from all over the world looking for the famed land of opportunity that is the US of A.  It may surprise people to know that in a city known as ‘Chicago Polonia’, and also ‘Poletown’, that it is the Irish that constitute the city’s biggest ethnic community. While most Irish-American families in Chicago are three or four generations deep, plenty of Chicago’s Irish have landed fairly recently. Ireland’s economy in the 1980’s and 1990’s prompted many of its young people to go where many others had gone before them and Chicago with it’s strong Irish links was if not top of the list then very close to it.

tossers-erin

It’s hard to believe that the self-proclaimed ‘World’s Loudest Folk Band’ have been around for twenty-four years now, forming as they did in July, 1993. The six piece from south Chicago have been unleashing their brand of Celtic folk punk even before Dropkick Murphy’s (1996) and Flogging Molly (1997) hit the scene. Steeped in Irish tradition, The Tossers take their place as one of the finest Celtic punk bands on the planet. Like most bands of this genre you can clearly hear the influences of The Pogues and Tony Duggins style of delivering the vocals is frighteningly close to Shane McGowan. That said, The Tossers are not a tribute act – far from it. They have a very unique way of delivering a fine but hooligan like take on folk music. The band’s name though for us here in Britland is an unusual one and would I think effect their t-shirt sales here. Saying that one of the blog editor’s wears his Tossers t-shirt with pride and I must say it suits him fine! Rest assured though it’s not the rude meaning you lot think it is as it actually dates back to Shakespeare, and depending who you ask it also means commode, drunk, to agitate, disturb, or disquiet but the band chose their name for its meaning to “throw away”.

tossers-band

Smash The Windows is due for release early March 2017 and comes four years after their last album hit the streets, the astounding The Emerald City back in March 2013. You can read our review of The Emerald City here and I suggest you do as it is a fantastic album that i still play regularly. Smash The Windows is certainly value for money with a total of seventeen songs that clock in at just under one hour in length. That is definitely a well packed album and there’s something in there for everyone. The album pays tribute to the bands Irish roots and what it meant to be an Irish American.

The album begins with ‘Erin Ga Bragh’ which is of course Irish for Ireland For Ever and The Tossers nail their colours to the mast from the very off. Fast and furious Irish punk rock played on mainly acoustic instruments that would equally please the most devout punk or folky! ‘Smash The Windows’ and ‘The Horses’ are both full of energy and I can imagine them being a real hit live. There is a cracking cover of ‘The Foggy Dew’ which is always a crowd pleaser. I have never really been a fan of the song ‘Danny Boy’ (not sure why) but I must say I really like The Tossers version. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Celtic Punk without a tribute to our beloved alcohol. ‘Drinking All The Day’, ‘Whiskey’ and ‘Lots Of Drops Of Brandy’ ticks this box on the new album. ‘1969’ brings us back to a darker time in Ireland’s history during the Civil Rights campaign and serves as a reminder that we should never forget what the brave people of the time fought for on our behalf. In today’s world, we take too much for granted and forget that without the sacrifices of many back in the 60’s and 70’s things could have been very different today. There are too many good tunes on this album to pick a favourite. Not one of them have disappointed. The album is being released by Victory Records and will be a big hit.

The Tossers Logo

Again on this album one of the things that amazes me is the way that The Tossers can change tempo and go from a raucous Irish punk rock number to a solemn reflective Irish ballad or a full on trad folk piece without you even noticing. The Tossers are more than just a band to their fans. They inspire and promote a love in your roots that is sadly missing for most people. They tell the tale of both Chicago and America’s Irish communities. Serious and piss-taking and joyful and sad and upbeat and maudlin The Tossers do it all and yes we Irish are all of these things… and The Tossers celebrate it all.

Discography

The Pint of No Return (1994) * We’ll Never Be Sober Again (1996) * The Tossers/The Arrivals- split (1998) * Long Dim Road (2000) * Citizen Fish/The Tossers- split (2001) * The First League Out From Land-EP (2001) * Communication & Conviction: Last Seven Years (2001) * Purgatory (2003) * Live At The Metro ’04 (2004) * The Valley of the Shadow of Death (2005) * Agony (2007) Gloatin’ and Showboatin’: Live on St. Patrick’s Day (2008) On a Fine Spring Evening (2008) The Emerald City (2013)

Buy The Album

Here directs to several sites where the pre-order is available or VictoryRecords

Contact The Band

WebSite  Facebook  Twitter  YouTube  Spotify

THE LANGER’S BALL FROM MINNESOTA ANNOUNCE DISCOGRAPHY AVAILABLE FOR FREE DOWNLOAD!

Straight up, no-frills Irish ballads from the frozen Mid-West with just a hint of razor blades, safety pins and American rock ‘n’ roll!

The Langer's Ball 2

The Langer’s Ball have long been hailed as one of the most interesting and innovative bands in the north American celtic-punk scene. They have never been afraid to mix in other genre’s of music while all the time keeping one toe firmly in the music of The Emerald Isle. It’s bands like The Langer’s Ball that keep the scene alive and fresh and bring new ideas to the celtic-punk table. Just recently they took the unusual step of releasing their entire Bandcamp back catalogue for free download,a move that will I am sure get them the recognition they so richly deserve.

The Langer’s Ball two studio albums

Hailing from Saint Paul in Minnesota in the frozen mid-west of the USA have long been at the forefront of the celtic music scene in the area and now their fame reaches right across the America’s and it’s time us over this side of the Atlantic tuned into what they have to offer. The story of the Irish in Minnesota is remarkably similar to many other states across the States. They may only be the second largest population of the city at 14% but despite being only half the number of those of German descent they managed to somehow (I wonder how they managed that?!?!) control all facets of government for decades. Of course the days when the Irish ran the city are long gone now but still many of those in local government, the Police and Fire Service come from typical Irish backgrounds.

The Langer’s Ball began life as a duo back in 2007 and the release by Michael and Hannah of a couple of low key album’s that were well received by the celtic-punk community. This persuaded them to fill out the sound somewhat and so they recruited a few local musicians expanding from a duo into a full on band and so The Langer’s Ball were born. Taking their name from the Irish word ‘Langer’ which has its origins in county Cork and can mean up to three things. A right eejit, being pissed or your dick! After those two early albums back in 2007 and 2008 The Langer’s Ball went on to release ‘Drunk, Sick, Tired’, a live St Patrick’s day recording, in 2011 and ‘The Devil, Or The Barrel’ in 2012. Their first studio album went on to garner #1 Rock/Trad Album Of The Year by Grinning Beggar, #2 Album of The Year 2012 for Shite’n’Onions and #3 Album of The Year for Paddy Rock as well numerous outstanding reviews across the board and not solely from the celtic-punk media.

They followed this with 2014’s ‘7 Year Itch’ their last release from a couple of years ago which we reviewed here and described it as

“The title of the EP refers to this being the bands seventh year together and with a bunch of new songs they were itching to release and with the success of the session it all came together perfectly to release this to The Langer’s Ball growing army of fans at home and abroad. The music itself is reminiscent of the more folkier side of celtic-punk but with plenty of bite with the extremely well played accordion to the fore throughout the EP”

They followed this up last year with the stunning Whiskey Outlaws, their first full-length studio album in 4 years. An absolute killer of an album which made all the Best Of lists of the major celtic-punk media and confirmed their place as one of the best bands in the scene.

Brilliant originals and a superb choice of covers complement each other well. When we reviewed it here we thought

“One of the things I love about The Langer’s Ball is their sense of humour and its evident on every recording I have heard of theirs. ‘I’m Looking Over A Four Leaf Clover/Bye Bye Blackbird’ just about sums them up. A three minute romp that is guaranteed to get you up and jigging about”

From the band’s interesting and knowledgeable choice of traditional folk covers to their incorporation of Americana, country, rockabilly, hardcore, baroque, klezmer and even psychobilly alongside the Irish punk The Langer’s Ball are constantly evolving and constantly improving and you can get on board and check out that from begiinning to present with their very generous decision to make it all *FREE!!!!* So don’t delay you never know how long these offers are going to last do you?

Contact The Langer’s Ball

WebSite  Facebook  Twitter  YouTube  ReverbNation  Bandcamp  Google+  Soundcloud

The band have made their entire Bandcamp discography ‘Pay What You Like’ which means you can download for free. Just click the ‘Buy Now’ option, which will ask you to ‘name your price’ but there is no minimum price, so just have it, the band want people to share their music.

“The music business is an odd one, especially when you love to make music and have people enjoy it. We have worked for nearly 10 years to better ourselves as musicians and play as often as we can. We are still trying to make the transition to full-time musicians, and are of the mind that if people love what we do, we can do it! That said, people have to hear what we do before they can love it, so we want to afford them the opportunity to do just that”

So what are you waiting for?? BUT if you’re feeling generous then chuck them a few bucks and if you like what you hear then why not visit their store here and get the  physical CD’s.

ALBUM REVIEW: DROPKICK MURPHYS- ’11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory’ (2017)

as reviewed by special guest writer

Frankie MacLaughlin from The Rumjacks

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When I was tasked with reviewing the new offering from Dropkick Murphys ’11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory’, I thought ‘shit!.. I wonder if I shouldn’t be half steamin’ in a pub with couple o’ pals in tow, instead of cooking dinner in preparation for a quiet night in, pet sitting for friends. Perhaps then I’d better appreciate the raucous, sudsy, barrage that has long been standard fare, down among its natural habitat.

I admit I was less than enthused by their early offerings, the singles ‘Blood’, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and ‘Paying My Way’. I don’t think I’m all that alone in saying I’d been disappointed in the past, so I decided I’d need to listen with fresh ears and not hold their finest moments against them as a yardstick.

It might surprise some to learn that I dont habitually listen to a great deal of Celt-Punk, whatever music finds its way in and out of my day does so of its own accord and on its own merits. This helped make listening to ’11 Short Stories’ as impartially as I could, a hell of a lot easier, and I’ll tell you now… I like it.
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I think its safe by now to say that the Murphy’s weren’t about to come kicking in doors and changing the world, but that’s fine, they already did that, arguably several times over. After first steaming in with some proper street punk clout, they went on to spearhead the modern age of Celtic punk rock. While many of us were still busy trying to be The Pogues, these guys gave us a whole new benchmark to work to.

While the album lacks some of the punch that we’ve been treated to previously, it still has its decent share of moments. Tunes like the lead single ‘Blood’ and ‘Paying My Way’ are unashamedly crafted to get everyone in on a singalong, big rolling chants with easy to latch onto lyrics sees them at their most accessible. So too with the albums opener ‘The Lonesome Boatman’, first recorded by The Fureys in ’69, its huge atmosphere & ‘whoa-oh-whoa’ vocals would make a great set opener in the big arena.

‘Rebels with a Cause’ is just a good, solid, punk rock tune that could sit just as easily with Al Barrs efforts as part of The Bruisers, for all its rapid fire delivery. ‘Kicked to the Curb’ strikes me as a ‘fun as f#%k classic rock & roll tune, that you could take the piss & do the twist to… without feeling like you’re taking the piss.

‘Sandlot’ is as nostalgic as it gets, its acoustic guitars and almost Motown beat are refreshing. I’m sure that no matter who we are we could relate pretty easily to the sentiments on show here, particularly…

“we were rich but no one told us, we didn’t know..”
‘4.15.13’ really stands out to me as a seriously honest moment from the band. Minus all the usual bells and flashing lights that normally draw us to a Murphys tune, its a humble and very human song, which I cant help think would’ve been right at home in a Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros set.

‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ similarly rocks a little of that Motown rhythm, and I like it a lot more than when I first heard it released. Though when you’ve been to Celtic Park a bunch of times to hear 70 odd thousand heads singing the classic tune, it was always going to be a tough comparison for me… it chugs away admirably enough nonetheless. ‘First Class Loser’ is folkie singalong Murphys at their best, while ‘I Had a Hat’ is a wild old calamitous affair. Here the tune written by James Mooney and made famous by the likes of Ray Perkins and The Andrews Sisters, sounds like the fight scene in a dodgy western,.. the kind where the barman expertly ducks a flying chair and carries on polishing the glassware.

All in all what I’m hearing on this record is a band enjoying what they do, making the music they feel like making right now. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest it was an exercise in ‘karaoke’ or ‘Dad-Rock’, although if they were to lean a little more that way, who’s going to hold it against ’em? It goes with the territory, these guys aren’t hungry young punks anymore, they’re family men, who work tirelessly and humbly in their community, a community they clearly love. I think they can be forgiven for being a little more nostalgic, or wanting to do their bit to lessen the impact of serious drugs, violence and hatred on that community. Something they’ve been particularly vocal about, especially of late, and very especially on this album.
When they finish the record with ‘Until Next Time’, singing
“We all had a good time and we’re sad to see it end…”
its nothing if not entirely believable. I think the Dropkick Murphys had a lot of fun making this record, they were as true to us all as they could be, and more importantly they were true to themselves. I for one wouldn’t be too offended if they stuck around and kept making music with that approach…
But that’s just my opinion. 
dkm-stpauliGet The Album

iTunes  FromTheBand-UK/Ireland  NorthAmerica  Europe

Contact The Dropkick Murphys

WebSite  Facebook  Twitter  YouTube  Soundcloud  MySpace

frankieMajor thanks for Frankie to taking the time out to write this review and for those of you been living under a rock then that can be the only possible excuse to not know that Frankie is the singer/songwriter for Sydney celtic-punk legends THE RUMJACKS. Later this year they will be heading to the USA for a series of shows and they are intending to get back to Europe too so do yourselves a favour celtic-punk fans and get on board with The Rumjacks. It’s been one hell of a ride so far and there is no sign of it slowing down for a good while yet!

Read up on what we have had to say about The Rumjacks here. Our panel of pissheads experts even awarded them Best Celtic-Punk Album Of All Time here! Hunt them down at these- WebSite  Facebook  Twitter  Instagram  YouTube  Soundcloud

CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW: JOHNNY CASH- ‘The Christmas Spirit’ (1963)

FREE DOWNLOAD

Songwriter. Six-string strummer. Storyteller. Country boy. Rock star. Folk hero. Preacher. Poet. Drug addict. Rebel. Saint AND sinner. Victim. Survivor. Home wrecker. Husband. Father. Son. and more…

Though he would go on to later make umpteen Christmas themed albums this was Johnny Cash’s first attempt and by far his greatest. Released in 1963 The Christmas Spirit features twelve songs of which many were penned either by the great man himself or his family and a handful of Johnny’s unparalleled Christmas standards such as ‘The Little Drummer Boy’, ‘Silent Night’ and ‘Blue Christmas’.

johnny-cash-christmas

The Christmas Spirit was released on 1st November 1963 on Columbia Records and had a re-release in the the early 1990’s where the production was re-mastered. Now my Mammy use to own a whole load of Johnny Cash album’s and among them were several Christmas records that could, I’m afraid, be described as Cash-in’s (groan…). This record though has an authentic feel to it. Like Johnny was singing with all his heart and soul on this one, coming as it did not long into the start of his recording career.

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The Christmas Spirit has twelve songs and comes in at just under forty minutes. It has three songs composed solely by Johnny and one co-written with his father-in-law Ezra ‘Eck’ Carter. It also features two songs written by Johnny’s wife and long time collaborator June Carter. As for the songs it’s all about the wonderful and warm voice of Johnny Cash. ‘Christmas As I Knew It’ is an biographical song about Johnny’s childhood Christmasses in Dyess, Arkansas that was written by June and Jan Howard. Johnny speaks from the heart about his working class background and his family and their Christmas traditions.

The LP features Johnny’s amazing version of ‘I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day’ plus ‘Here Was a Man’ and ‘Christmas As I Knew It’, plus more like ‘Blue Christmas’, at the time made famous by Johnny’s old label mate Elvis Presley, and a warm reading of ‘Silent Night’, making The Christmas Spirit a groundbreaking effort for this sorely missed legend. Johnny sings lead vocals on all the songs with backing from various Carter family members and the feel of the album is one of absolute calm. It may not be very fashionable for some Johnny Cash-come latelys to admit that religion was one of the driving forces in one way or another throughout Johnny’s career but it certainly was.

The Christmas Spirit by Johnny Cash

“On Christmas Eve I dreamed I traveled all around the earth
And in my dream I saw and heard the ways the different people hail the king
Whose star shone in the east and what a dream it was
In London Town I walked around Piccadilly Circus

A mass of people movin’ here and there I wandered where
On every face at every place was hurry up I’m late
But a kind old man at a chestnut stand said merry Christmas mate
And I felt the Christmas spirit

In a little town nestled down in Bavaria Germany
I walked along to see what the feeling there would be
And here again was the busy din the rushin’ the yellin’
But some kind boy said Frohliche Weihnachten
Not understanding the words but gettin’ the buyin’ and sellin’
I felt the Christmas spirit

In Bethlehem I heard a hymn some distant choir sang
And with other tourists I walked along to a church as its bells rang
Then I heard someone tell someone there’s where Christ was born
I wonder if he looked like our baby looked on that first morn

And then I really felt the Christmas spirit
From a businessman in the Holy Land as a sidewalk souvenir shop
I bought a little Bible since I’d hardly stopped
And it was in Paris France somehow by chance that I took the Bible out

And as I flipped the pages I saw these words and I knew what it was all about
For I read fear not for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy
Which shall be to all people
For unto you he was born this day in the City of David a Saviour
Which is Christ the Lord

Then I took the little Holy Book held it close and tight
I closed my eyes and visualized the glory of that night
So suddenly it came to me for when I awoke on Christmas Day
I felt the Christmas spirit down deep inside to stay

cash-and-june

Johnny and June

From the very beginning of his career Johnny Cash recorded gospel songs and if Johnny Cash sang it then you knew Johnny Cash believed in it with all his conviction. His rugged voice, growling, sometimes simply speaking of killers and Jesus in the same breath. He himself had at heart this combination of light and darkness. He was a devout Christian who read his bible daily even in the middle of the deep and dark drug addiction he suffered from. There’s not a single bad song here. Johnny’s voice saves it from any excessive garishness or sentimentality making it a must have for any Cash fans or anyone looking for some Christmas music that ranks up their with ‘Fairytale Of New York’. Johnny Cash was both saint and sinner personified and at what better time to remember him than now at Christmas..

FREE DOWNLOAD CLICK HERE

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THE LONDON CELTIC PUNKS ‘STEPPING STONES’ CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW SERIES

This album was brought to you as part of our regular series where we bring you something a little bit different to what you’re maybe use to. Lost and hidden and sometimes forgotten gems from the legends that have inspired and provoked folk music and musicians right up to modern celtic-punk music. Usually out of print so we can provide a free download link for you.

VARIOUS ARTISTS- ‘People Take Warning! Murder Ballads And Disaster Songs 1913-1938’ (2007)  here

EWAN MacCOLL -‘Bad Lads And Hard Cases: British Ballads Of Crime And Criminals’ (1959) here

EWAN MacCOLL AND PEGGY SEEGER – ‘The Jacobite Rebellions’ (1962)  here

VARIOUS ARTISTS- ‘Don’t Mourn. Organize!- Songs Of Labor Songwriter Joe Hill’ (1990)  here

LEADBELLY- ‘Easy Rider’ (1999)  here

VARIOUS ARTISTS- ‘The Little Red Box Of Protest Songs’ (2000)  here

GIL SCOTT-HERON- ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ (1974)  here

EWAN MacCOLL- ‘Scots Drinking Songs’ (1956)  here

VARIOUS ARTISTS- ‘Protest! American Protest Songs 1928-1953’  here

VARIOUS ARTISTS- ‘Women Folk- Iconic Women Of American Folk’  here

VARIOUS ARTISTS- ‘The Greatest Songs Of Woody Guthrie’ (1972)  here

THE DUBLINERS- ‘A Best Of The Dubliners’  here

ALBUM REVIEW: THE NARROWBACKS- ‘Arrogance & Ignorance’ (2016)

If Joe Strummer, Shane MacGowan and Bruce Springsteen survived a drinking session through the 5 boroughs, the hangover would be called The Narrowbacks.
narrowbacks
nar·row·back /ˈnæroʊˌbæk/ [nar-oh-bak]
–noun Slang.
1. Disparaging. an Irish-American.
2. a person of slight build who is unfit for hard labour
The Narrowbacks are from New York City and don’t they let us know us with their new album released this month Arrogance & Ignorance. Around the world Irish bands represent their city like The Wakes and Glasgow or The Bible Code Sundays and London and even though their are several absolutely brilliant New York Irish bands none are quite so linked to the city as The Narrowbacks are. They live and breathe their community and a listen to them brings alive the past, present and future of that community. With a sometimes painful history of tragedy and hardship that became a history of pride and celebration the Irish community today is again flourishing with increased emigration from Ireland and the way the Irish pass on that pride in their roots. One instance is the massive explosion in the playing of Gaelic Games in America and not just because of the newly arrived but those of Irish descent as well. With many of the old areas changing and other communities moving in, those places once known as Irish ghettos are no longer but the Irish still exist in vast numbers and their pubs and sporting venues are still reeling them in.
narrowbacks-band

The Narrowbacks from left to right: Anthony Chen – Bass (No Irish Ties) * Chris Moran – Drums (Irish American a few generations) * Seamus- Vocals and Patrick Keane- Accordion * (Father from Connemara Co. Galway, Mother’s family from Cork, Clare and Limerick) * Barry Walsh – Banjo, Mandolin (Father and Mother from Dublin) * Fionn McElligott – Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar (Father from Kerry, Mother from Kilkenny)

This is The Narrowbacks second album after Fire It Up in 2013 and they also released an outstanding EP last year, After Hours (review here). These records have for the main taken the same route of some seasoned Irish trad covers, some unusual or rare Irish trad covers and a smattering of self-penned numbers so it was a lovely surprise to see that every song here is one of the band’s own. All twelve tracks are written and arranged by the band and none disappoint too. If you thought they could do a catchy as hell version of ‘Sean South Of Garryowen’ then you need to hear them playing ‘Shannon’!
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Arrogance & Ignorance opens with ‘The Banner County’, which for those who don’t know is the nickname of County Clare in mid-west Ireland in the province of Munster. The song was written by Seamus and is about his and Pat’s Uncle Matt who is from Clare, who got drafted to go to Vietnam and ignored advice to dodge the draft so he could stay in the States. The accordion, played by Seamus brother Pat, leads the boys out and tits all at a fast and furious pace and it may be mostly acoustic but these are not your normal finger in the ear folk band by any stretch. The song moves along and is a superb catchy start to proceedings telling of Seamus Dad’s arrival in America and his dream of
“going back to the Banner county someday”
This is followed by Shannon which came out as a single for St Patrick’s Day earlier this year as an album taster and this song runs away as the album standout. That New York Irish feel is all over this song and only two songs in and I’m already using the word ‘catchy’ twice!

The accordion and banjo are amazing and Seamus vocals are raspy and hoarse but in a way that won’t put off your Mammy or your Nanna. Its heading towards St Shane but still manages to fit the music perfectly. ‘Loisaida’ slows it down a little and is the first taste of the band playing a real Irish traditional song. Even then there’s room for a bit more and song takes in a few styles and influences under it’s Irish wings.narrowbacks-pale‘Home’ brings out the tin whistle and its a rollicking good tune about you know what. It would seem that the NYC Irish and the Irish here in England never stopped dreaming of ‘home’. As the saying goes ‘Home is where the heart is’ and The Wolfe Tones hit the nail on the head with their song ‘My Heart Is In Ireland’. ‘Whiskey River’ slows it down again and its the usual tale of the love/hate relationship we Irish have with alcohol as well as some unrequited love thrown in its a bad mixture. ‘Fourth Of July’ is up next and is the biggest American holiday and also known as Independence Day when the war started that saw the British Empire given the boot. Nowadays its just an excuse for a big party and why not! Accordion and banjo again are flying here but I must add that none of this would be as effective if it wasn’t for the rock instruments of bass and drums. The whole band play as a unit and the album’s production is exemplary with the mix of everything absolutely perfect. Nothing is competing to be heard but rather it all accompanies including the voice,for as we know the Irish voice is also an instrument. Chugging guitar and a track that wouldn’t be out of place with that other son of Ireland The Boss singing with ‘Rosie’ and ‘Prodigal Son’ is a good auld fashioned Christmas song directed at a Irish mammy waiting for her off-the-rails son to come home. Starting off as a, here’s that bloody word again, catchy Irish tune it feels like it may go off at a tangent at some point and then it doesn’t disappoint and it all comes off with some beautiful words about making it home all wrapped it a nice touch of ska/reggae that doesn’t stick out at all.

As hard as it is to make a unsentimental Christmas tune The Narrowbacks have managed it. A real beauty. I’ve had this song stuck in my head for a week and we have made it the London Celtic Punks Christmas song of 2016. ‘Ole’ is up next and this has to be the bands signature tune. Not sure why Irish football supporters have embraced this song so much but embrace it they have. This is the kind of tune that their gig’s must get messy to!
“my Daddies a Paddy and I’m a Narrowback”
We are nearing the end and another album standout track is ‘Want you Back’ featuring the amazingly wonderful voice of Emily McShane. Acoustic guitar and piano start the song off and Emily and Seamus sing to each other about a terrible mistake. The flute gets an airing for ‘Out On The Avenue’ and excuse me but its a fecking glorious sound! An excellent song that leaves the final song as ‘Bastards Of The Borough’ where Seamus is unaccompanied on acoustic guitar and belts out the names of those old Irish areas of NYC with gusto and pride.

narrowback-jfkTwelve songs that, as we said, are all penned by the band that comes in just shy of three quarters of an hour. The Narrowbacks are the sons of Irish-immigrants who found each other at their local pub in the Bronx and for that we and the New York Irish can be grateful. We a expressive race and there is nothing we love better than a sing-song and with the Irish communities outside of Ireland changing and having to re-adapt bands like The Narrowbacks have never been so important . Our history needs to be remembered and passed down to the next generations. Those that sacrificed before us must never be forgotten.This six-piece group may propel itself with punk rock in its heart but it has the soul of an old Irish folk band and we are blessed that they do.
Buy The EP
Contact The Band

ALBUM REVIEW: SISTERS OF MURPHY- ‘Working Stiffs Unite!’ (2016)

Rochester New York State’s favorite celtic rock group sticking up for the working man and woman performing memorable self penned originals and the odd traditional cover!

Sisters cover.indd

Pouring out of the sometimes sunny Rochester area of New York state, about 300 miles from NYC, comes the brand new album from one of the areas favourite sons The Sisters Of Murphy. Released last Labor Day weekend Working Stiffs Unite! is their debut full length album after two EP’s, Holy Show in 2011 and On The Wrong Side Of The Road in 2013. Formed either nine or ten years ago, their memories are a bit sketchy, the band have been plugging away playing regularly since and have garnered great reviews and a multitude of fans of their solid working man (and woman) Irish rock’n’folk’n’roll. Those first two EP’s released on Silverdish Records were a great combination of folk, rock, pop and traditional Irish and unusually were pretty much made up entirely of the bands own compositions. Tight, well played celtic music and with this release they will surely get the recognition they deserve.

Some of Rochester’s earliest settlers were Irish, even before the dark days of the so called ‘famine’ and even today make up an astonishing 16% of the population. The Hibernian Benevolent Society was formed in 1828 and the Irish soon after founded St. Patrick’s church. There were at least 60 Irish families and an estimated 800 Irish-born men in Rochester by 1834. They built log cabins in an area that became known as Dublin and as only the most dirty and dangerous jobs were open to them many began work on the Erie Canal while others toiled in the flour and lumber mills. Many incidents of anti-Catholic and anti-Irish bigotry were reported and the local press attacked “popery” and these newly arrived immigrants but with the election of Henry O’Reilly as Postmaster in 1838, the long tradition of Irish involvement in politics in Rochester began. Of course the Rochester Irish were very active in sending aid back to Ireland as the ‘famine’ took hold and people were literally fleeing for their lives. Many sent money home to bring relatives over and by the early 1850s, the city’s population had grown by 7,500 with more than half coming from Ireland. In his 1957 book, Blake McKelvey wrote in Rochester History about the Irish

When Jeremiah O’Donovan, an Irish poet (and revolutionary!), reached Rochester in 1855, he characterized the city in his diary as the “promised land.” … One Irishman had risen to the head of the largest store in the city. He described another as the founder of a large clothing firm, and identified several more as grocers, meat merchants, furniture dealers and a variety of other tradesmen. O’Donovan found one Irish doctor in Rochester…

Gradually though anti-Irish feelings went away and just as in the the rest of America they helped shape all that was good and great about the places wherever they shipped into. The Irish population of Rochester may have shrunk in recent years somewhat but the community is still strong and flourishing and proud of their noble history! The Irish are still here and they are still fighting!!

Working Stiffs Unite! kicks right off from the very first bars with ‘L.O.V.E.’ and its full on Irish celtic rock coming out at ya. The fiddle and banjo mixing it up with the more traditional rock instruments and it all get’s the album off to a great start. ’40 Days At Sea’ starts off in an acapella style similar to something you could imagine Ronnie Drew doing before the band come in and again it’s as catchy as hell with the band combining perfectly and the production getting it just right too with all the bands instruments mixed just right. ‘One Word Of This Kiss’ begins with a thrashing guitar and while doesn’t scale the heights of the previous songs in speed it certainly makes up for it in energy. ‘Come Back To The Emerald Isle’ has a real country/Americana feel to it with the fiddle leading the way and Jonas voice giving just the right amount of honky tonk! ‘It’s A Shame’reminds me of London Irish bands like The Bible Code Sundays and The Craicheads. A poppy song that is as catchy enough but must say I prefer the harder edged songs here.

Next up is The Sisters Of Murphy’s epic song. Probably their signature track, ‘Green Over Red’. The song begins with the sound of an engine and soon uilleann pipes pipe us into a intro soon joined by acoustic guitar and the rest of the band join in this poignant song about emigration, fighting oppression and making your new home your own.

The year is 1925, and Tipperary Hill’s alive
With so many Celts who came across the sea
Listen to the children sing, dancing as the church bells ring
Laughing and finally feeling free

Now it feels like home!

Youth out marching in the street, stones in hand; there’s no defeat
No way in hell we’re going back again!
Huckle Ryan saves the day, says these boys won’t go away
There’ll be more than lights getting broke today

Oh oh oh, now it feels like home!

We knock it down, you build it up—we’ll tear it up again
You better get it right, man: green over red
Nothing you can say or do, ’cause this here is our avenue
You better get it right man: green over red!

We knock it down, you build it up—we’ll tear it up again
You better get it right, man: green over red
Nothing you can say or do; our flag is flying tried and true
You better get it right man: green over red!

Now it feels like home!

A real fist in the air singalong before the band ramp it right up for the second part and we are away with a reel that will get you beating up the dance floor. The standout track here that encapsulates all that is good about the Sisters. Following this they take a much more traditional folk route and it still works and ‘Jack Haggerty’ sounding a bit similar in style to Paul Brady version of ‘Arthur McBride’. On the title song ‘Working Stiffs Unite’ its the story of the struggling worker that the band bring to us.

They are quite right to be angry and dismissive of the current political machine that ignores everyone expect their friends in big business, the song does have a seething heart but the tune carries you along tapping your toes. ’17’ is a beautiful slow ballad that swirls in moments that build up to a crescendo before dying down again. This is followed by a live version of fan favourite ‘Katie Dear’ and fits in perfectly with the rest of the album with a great trad celtic folk sound and crowd singalongs. Now that’s your lot unless you get the version available below on Bandcamp where you get an extra free track. The ‘Green Over Red (Radio Mix)’ where to be honest it doesn’t sound that much different except its much more shorter and snappier.
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(left to right) Jona Chartrand: electric guitar, vocals * Haley Moore: fiddle * Mark Tichenor: concertina, vocals * Rick Elmer: drums, vocals * Cedric Young: whistles, mandolin, banjo, pipes, guitar, vocals * Scott Austin: acoustic guitar, vocals Bruce Lish: bass, vocals

The Sisters Of Murphy debut album captures perfectly that Irish-American celtic-punk sound that I love so much. Catchy and compelling and steering a fine line between humor and heartache and seriousness and piss-taking throughout all of the eleven songs. The album lasts nearly fifty minutes and is made up of all self penned tracks that tell the story of the Irish-American working man and woman. It’s election year in the States and with the choice in front of us are two enemies of the working class so as usual we have no one to rely on but ourselves. Their is loads to admire here and along with their fellow, brilliant, Rochester Irish band 1916, The Sisters Of Murphy are putting NY back on the celtic-punk map.

(you can have a listen or two to Working Stiffs Unite! for free by pressing play on the Bandcamp player below. Before you buy it that is!!)

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you can read Blake McKelvey’s 1957 pamphlet on the Irish immigrants in Rochester here.

ALBUM REVIEW: RUSTY NAIL- ‘Bitter Ale, Bitter Heart’ (2016)

If Liam Clancy grew up listening to Nirvana, it would sound like Rusty Nail.

St.Louis based Celtic-infused celtic-rock originals and traditional Irish Pub songs.

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Rusty Nail will be a name new to the vast majority I am sure but with this their new album they deserve a much wider audience and this just may be the one to get them it. Born and bred in the second biggest city of Missouri, St. Louis and when you find out the biggest city in Missouri is Kansas City you begin to realise exactly whereabouts in America you are. Famed through cinema history as the epi-centre of just about any decent cowboy film St Louis was a city founded by the French that transformed into a booming nineteenth-century industrial mecca. Experiencing a massive influx of people beginning in the 1840’s especially from Ireland and also from Germany, in forty years the population grew from 20,000 to 160,00 in 1860. Today the US Census Bureau gives the population of St. Louis as 318,416. Militant societies were formed, and an Irish nationalist rally at the Old Courthouse over 110 years ago filled the place to the rafters. Sadly in recent years the economy of the city has declined and St Louis has the highest percentage loss of residents of any city in the USA losing 62.7% since the 1950 census. It also has one of the highest murder rates in the USA (happily on the decline since 1993) but don’t despair as gentrification has given the business area lots of shiny new buildings for everyone to look at from across the city. Though as usual statistics don’t take into account the heart of a city and St. Louis has plenty of that. The city has also acknowledged their roots with those famine Irish who arrived all that time ago by twinning with both Galway and Donegal and while many of the Catholic churches those Irish built are gone and new residents live where they once lived the Irish community is still vibrant and strong with gaelic games and culture and tradition flourishing. The story of the St. Louis Irish is fascinating and I spent many a late night reading about them for this review. A great place to start is Bob Corbett’s Dogtown Homepage here. Dogtown is the Irish part of St. Louis and the name stems from the time of the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 when poor Irish squatters, living in makeshift shanties in Forest Park, were forced by the fair to move southward to the neighboring hill. As Bob himself says

“When they had to give up their squatters’ rights in the park, many of them moved over here. Most of them had space, so they kept hunting dogs. Quite a few of the people living over here descend from them”

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So out of this imperfect (tell me where is?) city comes the latest in a long line of Irish infused celtic-punk bands. Rusty Nail are a seven piece group formed in the winter of 2005 that plays music inspired by the likes of the ususal suspects of The Pogues, The Tossers and Flogging Molly but also of the Clancy Brothers, The Wolfe Tones and even Tom Waits. Their debut album, Ounce And A Half Of Whiskey, released in 2006 showed a band a long way from today’s incarnation. Played as a straight up four piece acoustic band the album stands up extremely well with its mix of mostly self penned ballads and a few trad covers and all with some surprisingly good country’n’western touches. They followed that up in 2011 with the release of Boozers, Bastards, and Bards. It saw the band move away from the acoustic more folkier music they had been playing. As Rusty Nail co-founder Alvan Caby says

“We always wanted to be a full rock band. So about a year into the band’s run, we added drum, bass and guitar slots to make a bigger sound”

With this ‘full sound’, as they put it, the album brought some great reviews and gained them massive exposure and they very soon became firm favourites among the St Louis Irish community and its friends. The album is again a  collection of mostly self penned tunes about drunks, unsavory characters and Irish poets chucked into a blender and mixed up with traditional folk sounds, rock and punk. The band take their name from an old-timey alcoholic beverage made with Whiskey and Drambuie Liqueur that gives a nod to the past while keeping it modern and helping along the booze-fueled festivity!

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Rusty Nail left to right: Pete McAvity- Electric Guitar * Chris Otto- Tin Whistle, Native American Flute * Dennis Frentzel- Drums * Kelly LaRussa- Violin * Alvan Caby- Mandolin, Guitar, Vocals * Chad Ross- Guitar, Banjo, Dulcimer, Accordion, Bouzouki, EBow, Organ * Mark Hochberg- Bass

So in the 10th anniversary year of the band they have come up trumps again with Bitter Ale, Bitter Heart. The album begins with ‘The Magician’ and fiddle and from the outset sets the tone. You can hear influence from The Tossers here but Rusty Nail are their own band and within the first few bars you can tell this band is something special. Alvan’s lyrics sound like they are ripped straight out from his heart and laid bare for us. He said in a recent interview that

“There’s lots of silly lyrics in our older songs. But for now it’s about the idea of honesty and true-story kind of stuff. I’m a big fan of sad lyrics with happy-sounding music. There are a lot of artists who do a similar sort of thing. It’s about being honest. I don’t know if it will mean as much to the next person as it does to me, but maybe it will. It helps me deal with feelings of failure, feelings of loneliness and feelings of disappointment. But there’s also feelings of love and hope. As dark as the songs get, then there’s still hope”

That thing Alvan said about sad lyrics with happy-sounding music nails the Rusty Nail sound perfectly. ‘Return To The Start’ the next track up gives off an triumphant air with the jolly sound of fiddle and this time the mandolin to the fore but again there’s much more to it.

(not the album version but I like it even more)

Alvan’s voice is not yer perfect croon, that much is true but I very much doubt it could be done any other way and it fits in like no ‘crooner’ ever could. ‘Giving Up’ gives it over to the tin whistle to shine and more lyrics maybe best not to listen to in the dark on your lonesome but by Christ it’d be enough to get you out yer chair and leaping around. As has been said before here on this blog the level of musicianship of some of these celtic-punk bands is incredible.

‘Less Than Angels’ is the first slower song of the album and tells of the Irish that left in those so called ‘famine’ years. Again a real and honest heartfelt song that tells the story in a way I have never quite heard before.

“The hunger drives you to do incredible things

To travel across oceans and cut off all our wings

And be less than angels with sin in our heart

Abandoning our nature, destroying all our art

 

They say that the famine was the cause for all of this

It’s a hell of a gamble, a swing and a miss

A perishable future amongst gravel and soot

The dust of our harvest is trampled under foot

 

Will the poor be poor always?

Zero hope and dream is killed

Will the classes and divisions

Become narrower still

No belief in myself

Erasing all our goals

The grave-digging starts tomorrow

Better start digging your hole

 

The hunger drives you to do unspeakable acts

To lie to your brother, exaggerate the facts

And be less than angels with blood on our hands

The hourglass is emptied of the last grains of sand

 

I’ll do anything for a job, anything for a life

I’ll suffer for the scraps, for child and for wife

Bill collectors have all taken the dignity I have left

Politicians and the banks are all guilty of theft”

The band are back rocking out with ‘It’s A Shame I Did Nothing’ and gives them the chance to show off their rock credentials but also chucks in a flute to keep it celtic and an acoustic guitar that shines through the rocking loud and clear. ‘Another Story of Unreturned Love’ is by far and away the catchiest song on this album of catchy songs. Telling of a failed relationship and its aftermath.

“I couldn’t talk to you

Standing in front of you

Holding my feelings and biting my tongue

And our “Little Ireland” is what we decided on

Things that I wish that I said when I’m young”

All the band come together in celtic-punk perfection and a wee mention for the superb drumming here too. ‘Hardscrabble Road’ is the tale of a loser told in a slow ballad that speeds up towards the end and the accordion drives it along till Alvan’s voice takes the lead.

Coming to the end and celtic-punks favourite subject pops up in ‘Liquid Miracles’ again telling of a loser who, like many, knows exactly what he’s doing but can’t help himself.

“the disease of the mind that I have caught”

Another slower song ‘Central West End’ and more misery and the common theme seems to be that the loser in Rusty Nail songs is trapped by addiction despite knowing all too well what he’s doing. Another catchy as feck number that is a great example of the excellent production here. All the instruments, electric and folk, are clear as them bells (what does that mean??) and despite the tune speeding right up in parts doesn’t lose that clarity so hats off to Chad for the excellent recording and mixing. Chad plays guitar, banjo, dulcimer, accordion, bouzouki, EBow and organ on the album so surely knows what he is doing! Next is the album’s longest song at well over five minutes.

‘Mad As Birds’ another standout track and evokes sadness upon sadness here as the song builds up and up and swirls round and round before ending on, for them, a rather positive note before coming to an end with ‘The Nightmare Will Prevail’

“It’s only fair, that you buy another round for all your friends

They’ve stuck around and stuck up for you

When the rest of us could not pretend

This bitter divide that you’ve caused for us is one that’s hard to defend

But I have faith in you,

Even though it may be hard for anyone to comprehend”

This is pure infectious dance music (proper dance music that is!) with enough fist in the air moments going on here to give you a bad shoulder in the morning! Like the best in celtic-punk its a roller coaster of emotions and the joyous music belies the seriousness of the words and though Alvin’s (and Chris) lyrics often inhabit a dark place it’s the story of Irish-America. It’s not all shamrocks and shenanigans you know. So whether you are looking for a band to get you off your feet and move and shout and scream and spill your drink to or just kick back and sit and listen to with a glass of the pure to warm you and take in every road these bhoys and ghirl have travelled then Rusty Nail are the band for you and whichever you choose you are guaranteed to find a great time.

(you can listen to Bitter Ale, Bitter Heart for free before you buy it by clicking play on the Bandcamp player above)

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  • for another view of the album check out Celtic Folk Punk And More here

(great video with music and band interviews)

EP REVIEW: LEXINGTON FIELD- ‘Redwood’ (2016)

It’s very simple. It’s called Fiddle-Rock.
LexField
 Now I have been a fan of this band for a loooong time. Pretty much from their earliest days so don’t be expecting any sort of unbiased review here as impartiality goes out the window when Lexington Field release another record. On first hearing Redwood I wasn’t surprised or shocked at all. I just had that knowing smug feeling that I knew I was onto a winner when I first heard them many moons ago.
Lexington Field
Formed back in 2009 in San Diego, southern California the band have previously released four albums, Old Dirt Road, Poor Troubled Life, No Man’s War and Greenwood and all have came garnered the same critical praise from both the celtic-punk and wider punk/rock music media. They have played and toured solidly and to call what they do unique is no way giving them enough credit!
(1. Old Dirt Road- 0:00 2. Poor Troubled Life- 3:10 3. Rest of Our Days- 8:04 4. Duke of Green- 11:40 5. American Crow- 15:52 6. Pioneer- 18:21)

Lexington Field play a mixture of music blending genres from country and Americana as well as punk rock and not to be forgetting a massive dose of traditional Irish music with a expert fiddle player right slap bang in the middle. The band call what they do ‘fiddle rock’ and is as good a description as I could give in two words. We reviewed Greenwood last Christmas (check the review here) and had this to say

“Thirteen tracks and forty minutes gives the songs plenty of time to develop and Beau’s great vocals and lyrics stand out giving Lexington Field that extra bit more.”
So at risk of repeating myself I have to say that once again Lexington Field have hit the heights with this release. Seven tracks that sail in at just a few seconds under half an hour and is over far far too quickly. Over a couple of weekends in early 2016 the band went up to Anza in California to record at Matt Maulding’s (formerly of the brilliant celtic-punk band Brick Top Blaggers) Weathertop Studio. There the band took six songs from their history and stripped them right down and basically rewrote them and are presenting them back to us now.

Released on July 8, 2016 the EP begins with ‘Old Dirt Road’ from their debut album of the same name. Where as the original was the standout track of that album and is the song that I think of when I reach out to put that album on. The energy remains exactly the same but without the electric guitar thrashing away and that is some achievement I tells you.

“Time flies by so fast
It’s hard to stop and think
With all these peaks and valley, and all the sand that lets us sink
One thing’s for sure
I won’t give up on my end to be a fighter, be a fighter

I don’t mind traveling down that old dirt road again
Cause I’ve got time to waste to go back where it all began
Though some might say I’m holding on, I‘m holding on too long
Well,don‘t you mind. Just don’t you mind

I feel so wasted
Maybe time can make it right
Set the stage for a comeback
Set the stage for a fight
The best defense I can put up on my end is to be a fighter, be a fighter”

Lexington FieldFollowing this is ‘Poor Troubled Life’ which again is taken from the album of the same name and once again is possibly the stand out track from that record. The music is exemplary and though I can imagine a few punk rock snobs not quite getting it I always say man cannot live by punk rock alone! Usually on a Lexington Field record the upbeat music belies the often darkness of the lyrics but here in acoustic mood it seems to fit a lot more easily. The music may be slow but plenty to admire and love especially here on this song with the whistle that sounds great (and shhh don’t mention the electric guitar on their supposed acoustic record!!!).

“It’s been too long, I feel disconnected
Empty bottles numb my soul
There’s still a chance for me to come back around
A chance for me to mend my broken life

And I can taste all that glory
All the love, the love I have around
It lifts me up poor troubled life
It lifts me up

I found it so hard to breathe
Gonna throw it all away
Without this troubled life
Could I live another day”

Next up is ‘Rest Of Our Days’ which comes from No Man’s War and here takes one of Lexington’s most obvious celtic-punk songs and channels into a lovely slice of Americana/country folk. The superb fiddle playing from the original is still there and lifts the song to the heavens with Beau’s great voice giving it all he can.

“I won’t cry and show my weakness if I ain’t got one
No I can’t cry and let that pain back in again
I won’t lie my pain it’s not forgotten
And the weakness runs deep beneath my skin”

‘Duke Of Green’ is the opening track of that debut album Old Dirt Road and the song that introduced me, and countless other, to Lexington Field.

“Why would you want to come home?
Don’t you see our tears have run dry?
You’ve lost it all again
I can tell by your eyes

Tried to talk sense
Tried to mend this broken fence
But you, you didn’t care
You haven’t won a single race
Still hold on just in case that you will be there”

We’re nearly at the end and ‘American Crow’, taken from No Man’s War, continues in the same vein taking one of their more raucous tracks and stripping it bare.

“I’m not an angel, don’t call me a saint
I am just a face in the crowd
I follow my orders with no complaints
For a nation who stands tall and proud”

‘Pioneer’ follows and is also from No Man’s War but unlike the rest of this EP was a slowish ballad to start with that swirled and swirled with wave upon wave hitting you. Here though ‘Pioneer’ is slowed right down and proves my theory that the best celtic-punk bands are as good writing and playing ballads as punking out.

“Don’t call me pioneer
A grossly overstated misconception to all pioneers
I pick up my guitar
And write these stupid songs out of deception to mask my emptiness

But I should go and feel my new surroundings
Where I know I’ll find my solid ground
And I will show the world that I can fight again

I tried to hide my tears
But lost my words instead to a silent, muted pain
The cure for this disease
Was to find my inner song, a bittersweet melody

Maybe time will heal this fall
Into the next chapter of my life
I will open up my heart to this brand new start blessed to me

Don’t call me pioneer”

Redwood comes to an almighty end with the bonus track ‘Good Times’. Written in the studio on their first day there with the alcohol flowing it was recorded in a straight take with just a couple of mics and really captures the feeling that the band were at the top of their game and really (!!) enjoying themselves too.

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Lexington Field from left to right: Bryan Hane – Guitar, Tom Lazet – Bass, Vincent West – Drums, Beau Gray – Vocals, Guitar, Olivia Buscemi – Violin

The EP is available on download and CD and once again the bands great friend Jose Pimienta aka Joe Pi has done the amazing artwork (check out his work here) so here’s hoping for a physical release as well as that download. It would be far too simple to call this a Best Of or Greatest Hits as that’s well off the mark. What we have here, without wanting to sound too pretentious, are re-imagings of Lexington Field as perhaps they would have been 50 or maybe even 100 years ago. The music is as real and as raw as anything they have ever recorded and for that I am truly grateful. Here is a band that shows no sign of letting up and if ever their was a case of quality AND quantity then Lexington Field have it in spades!

(you can have a free listen to Redwood by pressing play on the Bandcamp player below)

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SINGLE REVIEW: BRYAN McPHERSON- ‘Born Again American Blues’ (2016)

A fusion of Americana, folk, alternative and punk this Irish-American guy is a whole lot more than even this.

Bryan

Now I didn’t quite get the music of Bryan McPherson straight away I must admit. My fellow founding member of the London Celtic Punks had spent a couple of years previous trying to indoctrinate me and although I did really like what he did I was far from thinking he was the genius I now consider him. This all changed one summer Bryan MacPhersonevening in Camden last year when I saw Bryan perform live in a shitty rock venue with the crappiest PA ever and a even crappier sound man. Suddenly it all clicked into place and he has been a solid feature on my stereo ever since. Bryan was born and raised on the mean streets of Dorchester, a blue collar working-class Irish-American Catholic neighbourhood in Boston, that was also home to half the members of the original Dropkick Murphys. He was inspired as a kid by the energy and angst of punk, as well as the lyrically driven American folk songs of the early 1960’s. His first gigs were on street corners, at house parties and subway stations in Boston’s inner city. In 2001 he burst onto the acoustic music scene but then Bryan took a break from performing to address some personal issues and vanished from the scene. Since his return he has played the length and breadth of North America and more recently further afield as a solo artist. This is powerful passionate, acoustic-punk from the heart.

I got the born again american blues blues blues blues.

Playing another show down in Santa Cruz Cruz Cruz.
Up to Portland and Seattle, all the way from Syracuse.
And I’m playing like there’s nothing left to lose.
What do you want from me my lady of the sea?
You want to wash me toss me drag me wash me away.
I got the finger picking sticking love love love in my vein.
And I got an answer to all the other answers that will take your pain away.
I want to live forever on Friday.
When there’s always a check in the mail and I’m always paid.
What do you want from me my lady of the breeze?
I got a western wind blowing down on me.
I got a sleeping bag I take it with me wherever I go.
I always got a bed. I always got a home.
I got the sky for my sky light.
Don’t worry mama I’m alright.
‘Cause I was born at night.
I was born born born to fight with shadows on the wall.
7 years since last call, but there’s a soul dying somewhere tonight.
What do you want from me my lady of the street with your broken bottles and sewer caps forlorn?
I want 50,000 people to clap your hands right on time.
We can all sing in rhythm and we can all sing in rhyme.
The engineers will struggle to keep us all in time.
We’re all life-long prisoners of this time.
In these dark dark dark dark dark dark scary times.
We walk walk walk walk walk walk fine lines between ever present death and ever lasting life.
What do you want from me my lady of belief?
She says faith is a god damn motherfucker to keep.
Harmonica.
She said she’s never coming back again.
She said she’s never coming back again.
She said I’m as gone gone as your western wind.
You’re never ever ever ever ever gonna see me here again.
But then baby baby baby baby baby baby please come home.
You left me left me left me left me left me left me all alone.
And these eastern winds are blowing so god damned cold.
Look at us we’re growing so god damn old.
What do you want from me boy of the breeze?
She said you’re blowing like a broken tornado.
The End.

Released on July 18th, 2016 and is performed and was written by the man himself Bryan MacPherson and recorded by Bryan Dobbs in Atwater Village, Los Angeles, California and mixed and mastered by Willy Samuels at Nutone in Pittsburgh California.

Bryan McPherson

With just a guitar and a harmonica and a passionate and heartfelt and emotional and frail and powerful and uplifting voice. Bryan’s music can chill you to the very bone as he dissects American working class life. When those pampered and privileged members of the middle classes want to lecture us about so-called ‘white privilege’ then maybe they ought to have lived a moment in Bryan McPherson’s shoes. Just a moment. Street life, politics, addiction, the prison system, class war and discrimination litter the alleys of McPherson’s songs. Don’t despair though as amongst it all shining through are moments of beauty and clarity that are as beautiful as ever was committed to paper. The music of Bryan McPherson may not be an altogether fun roller coaster ride but you will get untold pleasure hearing it.

Download The Single

Bandcamp (only $1!!)

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  • Bryan is a bit skint so if you are feeling generous you can get all ten of Bryan’s available previous releases for just $20.22 (that’s about £13). That’s Born Again American Blues (2015), Street Lights (2009), Live at Artaban Hall (2013), Wasted World- Live At A Campfire In Nedrow, NY. (2015), American Boy / American Girl (2012),Wedgewood (2015), Live at The Milestone (2014), Kelly Thomas (2014), Originally From Dorchester (2013) and Live at Club Passim 2004 (2004). That’s over 50% off so help a buddy out here.

OBITUARY: REMEMBERING ERIK PETERSEN

by Dave Hughes

“So tattoo our arms and raise our glasses, call out your name at New Year’s Eve, maybe next time we kneel at a casket, we can say at least the story’s complete”

Erik 2

Folk punk can get a bad rap. Out on the internet there are thousands of bad recordings of badly sung and badly played songs about Things That Are Bad (™). Songs that lack nuance, metaphor and melody. Then there was Erik Petersen. He was different, he was the master of crafting a song around an ancient melody, turning a phrase, and constructing a tale full of metaphor, life, death and everything in between. It breaks my heart to be writing an obituary for Erik, he was one of my heros, he was a friend, and above everything else he was a genius.

Erik was a long time player in the Philadelphia punk scene. His band The Orphans split up in 2000, but not before writing some amazing slices of hardcore (check out The Government Stole My Germs CD from their Raise The Youth anthology). Near the end of The Orphans, a shut down show might mean Erik grabbing an acoustic guitar and playing some unplugged songs instead. There is a show on Youtube from a veterans hall, a young Erik sits on a chair in the middle of a room of punks playing early versions of songs that would go on to be Mischief Brew. Erik, himself, had commented that this scratchy footage was the start of Mischief Brew.

Erik 1Between The Orphans and Mischief Brew there was the Kettle Rebellion. The Kettle Rebellion was a tight three piece of Erik, Jon Foy on Bass and Chris Doc Kulp on drums. They played a style that could be described as Medieval Folk Punk, the kind of hardcore that you’d hear while you strolled through a renaissance fair. An eight track LP was recorded in 2002, but before it could be released, the master tapes were stolen and leaked to archaic MP3 sharing sight Soulseek. In response, Erik scrapped the project. Years later, he stumbled across a version of the master tapes and decided to put it out. In 2013, the Kettle Rebellion LP was finally released through Fistolo on Vinyl, and my own record label, Different Circle Records, on CD.

Erik and Mischief Brew were DIY to the core, and before going on with the story, I have to introduce Denise. Denise was Erik’s wife and partner in crime for over 20 years. Emails sent through to Fistolo would invariably be responded by Denise. She’s a wonderful small package of vibrancy, smiles and energy. There’s also the Pugs, a Mischief Brew article is not complete without bringing up the Pugs. The Petersens rehomed many pugs through the years, and they were a common feature at their American shows. Check out the early recording of Erik playing at a PunX Picnic and you’ll hear one of them, perhaps Garcia, yelping along to Erik’s genius. Up the Pugs.

Erik 4In 2003, Erik released a split record with Robert Blake entitled Bellingham/Philadelphia, and also a more electric EP known as Bakenal. These were the start of the Mischief Brew sound that the underground world would associate with Petersen. It was on the Bakenal EP that the anthem “Roll Me Through the Gates of Hell” first appeared, with it’s rally cry of “I am a leader but you will not follow me” providing the spit and sawdust that anarcho-folk had been looking for. Lyrics from this song would be sprayed across walls around the world, most prominently across the outer wall of the Squat-cum-Social-Centre Knoflook in Den Bosch, Netherlands. Footage of Erik standing on the bar at Knoflook (during their last Europe Tour in 2008) singing Jawbreaker’s Boxcar can be found on YouTube. It’s a moment of pure joy, and testament to how he could command a room with his guitar.

Mischief Brew had a few line-up changes through the years, finally settling on a three-piece core of Erik, Shawn St Clair on Bass and Erik’s brother Chris Petersen on drums. Occasionally they’d be joined by Kettle Rebellion’s drummer Doc on percussion and second guitar duties. They released albums infrequently, but at a pace that was slowly increasing in recent years. The initial full length, Smash The Windows, was released in 2005, with its smash the system electric folk punk featuring guest spots from Stza from Leftover Crack and Franz Nicolay (solo artist and past member of The Hold Steady). Featuring a reworked Kettle Rebellion track called A Liquor Never Brewed and a full band Roll Me Through The Gates of Hell, this is the place to start with Mischief Brew.

From there we got Songs from under the sink (an acoustic collection of ‘forgotten’ old songs), The Stone Operation (a European influenced carnaval of a record) and the latest This is Not For Children (their punk rock roots coming to the fore). In between there was a smattering of EPs, the greatest of these being Eriks side of Photographs from the Shoebox (a split with Joe Jack Talcum). On this EP, you will find Labour Day Massacre, one of the prime examples of Erik’s socially conscious political songwriting.
Erik 3Mischief Brew played a lot of shows in America. From small cafes with acoustic guitars in front of a close crowd,  to an audience of thousands at the NYC Bowery Ballroom with The Hold Steady. They toured Europe twice, the last time in 2008 and were about to start another visit here next week. Youtube is a library of live performances, but that only gives you an impression of what it was like to be there.

I’ll finish this with a story about the last time I saw Erik, Denise and Mischief Brew. I found myself living in Brooklyn in 2013 and feeling quite homesick. Mischief Brew had a show booked at a dive bar called Grand Victory which I had frequented a few times. I went along, expecting a small turn-out and to hear some of my favourite songs belted out. I hadn’t seen them since 2008 when they had played in Glasgow (on borrowed guitars due to a fuck-up by the airline), but soon bumped into Chris and Shawn as if it had been yesterday.

There must have been around 200 showing up to this bar show, DaysNDays and Absinth Rose supported, and it was life affirming. From opening with Children Play with Matches to the closing anarchy of Roll me Through the Gates of hell, I was sweaty, hoarse throated and absolutely elated. I headed to the merch desk to buy a vinyl copy of the Stone Operation, and when hearing my thick scottish accent, Denise automatically recognised who I was and the night truly started. I sat at the end of the bar, unending stream of whisky, with Erik, Denise, Shawn, Chris, Doc and Maria (Denise’s sister). They invited me back to Maria’s flat with them for more drinks and merriment. Erik and Shawn drove ahead with the gear and we stayed at the bar to finish our drinks.

Erik 5By the time we arrived at Maria’s, Erik and Shawn were asleep on the sofas with three pugs dancing around the apartment. The rest of us stayed up a while in the kitchen, drank fruit flavoured beer, and I felt like I truly belonged. I went to sleep on the floor with a pillow that was given to me, but awoke with a blanket over me and a pug on my head. Once we were all awake, we sat around and chatted about life, music, and plans. We ordered burgers, ate, and bid our farewells as I ventured out in the hot Brooklyn sun. I’d lost a day, but gained a life time.

I’m sitting writing this in a flat in Paisley, Scotland, with my Mischief Brew T-shirt (bought at the show in Brooklyn), my “May All We Do Be All For Our Delight” tattoo on my arm, trying to comprehend where we go from here. Erik Petersen soundtracked my last 10 years, gave me inspiration for my own songwriting and journey, bonded me with some of my closest friends, and gave me something to strive towards. No Gods, No Masters, No Setlists.

Fair Well Good Fellow, the tape has slowed down, but the music won’t stop.

Find out more about Erik’s great legacy of songs and other work by following the links-

Facebook  WebSite  MySpace  Twitter  YouTube  Bandcamp

STOP-PRESS

Friends of Erik have set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for his wife and family to help get them through all this without the added worry of funeral expenses and to help them get by in this tough time. All of the money raised will be given to his wife, Denise. The campaign can be found here so donate if you can and if you can’t then please share.

ALBUM REVIEW: RUNA- ‘Live’ (2016)

Timeless, flawless, innovative and award-winning Irish-American Celtic roots music.

RUNA Live

After four superb studio albums the brilliant Runa release a live album, imaginatively titled Live, that captures perfectly the sound of this amazing band. With a pedigree second to none, made up of vocalist and step-dancer, Shannon Lambert-Ryan of Philadelphia, Dublin-born guitarist, Fionán de Barra, Cheryl Prashker of Canada on percussion, Dave Curley of Galway on mandolin, vocals, bodhrán, and step-dancing, and Maggie Estes of Kentucky on the fiddle they are surely bound to hit the heights again with this album and they have deservedly earned their reputation as one of the most innovative and unique Irish bands of recent times.

Claude was a evangelical preacher, faith healer and singer-songwriter who helped popularise the music of the Appalachian mountains and was one of the fore-runners of the birth of rock’n’roll. Great percussion here keeping a fantastic beat while Shannon’s beautiful voice confers the greatest respect for Claude’s music. The opening song contains all those elements that make Runa such an interesting band. Based in the music of the celtic nations there is so much going on here that to simply call it celtic music does not give you anything like the full story. ‘

“Still I sing bonnie boys, bonnie mad boys,
Bedlam boys are bonnie
For they all go bare and they live by the air,
And they want no drink nor money”

In the 18th century it became a popular diversion to visit the hospital to watch the antics of the poor inmates. Admission was one penny and the hospital realized an income of four hundred pounds a year from visitors. The song Fionán de Barra takes over vocal duties and murderer. Excellent fiddle and a real thigh slapper that gets the audience here really involved and singing along.

“False Sir John’s a wooing gone
To a maid o’ beauty fair
May Colven was this lady’s name
Her faither’s only heir”

“Then myself and a hundred more to America sailed o’er
Our fortunes to be making we were thinking
When we landed in Yankeeland they shoved a gun intae our hand
Saying, Paddy you must go and fight for Lincoln

General Meagher to us said, If you get shot and lose your head
Every mother’s son of you will get a pension
In the war I lost my leg, all I’ve now is a wooden peg
By my soul it is the truth to you I mention

Now I think myself in luck to be fed on Indian buck
In old Ireland the country I delight in
And with the devil I do say, Oh Christ curse America
For I’m sure I’ve had enough of your hard fighting”

One of the saddest of the Irish emigration songs it is unusual in that songs of that time were written by the people escaping the ‘famine’ back home and extolling the virtues of the ‘land of liberty’. To put it glibly ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’. Truly not every man is a king in the US of A. Fionán takes over the lead vocals again and his whispered hushed tones fits perfecting the sadness in the song. ‘The stereotype of whale fishermen is a of a hairy chested, hard working, hard drinking, hard fighting men of the sea and while, no doubt the description fitted many of them, they often showed a strong liking for gentle ballads like these. The first parts tells the whalefishers story while part two tells of how closely we came to the extinction of this majestic animal.

“My soul has been torn from me and I am bleeding
My heart it has been rent and I am crying
For the beauty around me pales and I am screaming
I am the last of the Great Whales and I am dying”

1947 between a young boy and a false knight (the devil in disguise). The child gets the better of him and damns him back down to hell. Steeleye Span, Oysterband, The Blue Velvet Band have all recorded the song and here Runa give it as good as anyone with Shannon’s vocals shining out. So ends Set One and begins Set Two.

RUNA inside

All rested Runa return to rapturous applause and kick off their set with fiddler and composer born to a Irish musical family in Chicago, Illinois. next up is ‘

“Mhí mise lán den tsaoil is bhi cion amuigh is istigh orm
Nach mór a dáthraigh an saol nuair nach bhfuil eion ag duine ar
bith orm? / At one time in my life I was dearly loved by everyone
Haven’t times changed when no one cares a whit for me?”

(“Fine girl you are!”) version beloved by Irish pub dwellers worldwide but another less well known song written by Gerry O’Beirne about a man who leaves Ireland and ends up in the America southwest, eventually dying fighting and dying for the Mexican Army in the San Patricio Battalion (St Patrick Brigade).

“There the winds of change they blew so far
Of liberty and revolution
And it seemed that each man heard in his breast
the drumming of a nation”

Robert Dwyer Joyce

“Twas hard the mournful words to frame
To break the ties that bound us
Ah, but harder still to bear the shame
Of foreign chains around us
And so I said, ‘The mountain glen
I’ll seek at morning early
And join the brave united men’
While soft wind shook the barley”

and Aoibhneas Eilís Ní Cheallaigh/ Filleadh An Bhadora

Discography

Jealousy (2009) * Stretched On Your Grave (2011) * Somewhere Along The Road (2012) * Current Affairs (2014)

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WebSite  Facebook  Twitter  ReverbNation  YouTube  Soundcloud

  • For the review we published of the last Runa studio album Current Affairs check here

CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW: THE GREATEST SONGS OF WOODY GUTHRIE (1972)

“I hate a song that makes you think you´re not any good! I hate a song that makes you think you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are either too old or too young or too fat or too thin or too that. Songs that run you down or songs that poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or your hard travelling”

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Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie was the single most important American folk music artist of the 20th century, in part because he turned out to be such a major influence on the popular music of the second half of the 20th century, a period when he himself was largely inactive. He performed continually throughout his life with his guitar frequently displaying the slogan ‘This Machine Kills Fascists’. His greatest significance lies in his songwriting. Songs like the standard ‘This Land Is Your Land’ and much-covered works as ‘Deportee’, ‘Do Re Mi’, ‘Hard, Ain’t It Hard’, ‘Hard Travelin’, ‘1913 Massacre’, ‘Pretty Boy Floyd’ are all featured on ‘The Greatest Songs Of Woody Guthrie’ in one way or another.

Woody1Woodrow Wilson Guthrie was born in the oil boom town of Okemah, Oklahoma in 1912. He went on the road when only 13 years old after his mother was debilitated by Huntington´s Chorea, a incurable nerve disease which would eventually kill Woody himself in 1967. During the years leading up to the Second World War he was with the refugees of the Dust Bowl on their trail westward, with the migrant workers in the California orchards, in the factories and mines where workers struggled for union recognition to gain better pay and conditions, with the black Americans against the prejudice facing them and during the war he was in the navy. Throughout all these experiences and a life full of tragedy his faith in people and his belief that the ordinary person would win in the end never faltered.

Most of those performances and recordings came after Guthrie’s enforced retirement due to illness in the early ’50s. During his heyday, in the 1940s, he was a major-label recording artist, a published author, and a nationally broadcast radio personality. But the impression this creates, that he was a multi-media star, is belied by his personality and his politics. Restlessly creative and prolific, he wrote, drew, sang, and played constantly, but his restlessness also expressed itself in a disinclination to stick consistently to any one endeavour, particularly if it involved a conventional, cooperative approach. Nor did he care to stay in any one place for long. This individualism was complemented by his left-wing political views. During his lifetime, much attention was given in the U.S. to whether left-wingers or even liberals were or had ever been members of the Communist party. No reliable evidence emerged that Guthrie was, but there can be little doubt where his sympathies lay!
Sadly it was as Woody’s health declined to the point of permanent hospitalization in the 1950’s that his career took off. His songs and his example served as inspiration for the folk revival in general and, in the early 1960’s, Bob Dylan in particular. By the mid-’60s, his songs were appearing on dozens of records, his own recordings were being reissued and, in some cases, released for the first time, and his writings were being edited into books. This resurgence was in no way slowed by his death in 1967; on the contrary, it has continued for decades afterwards. New books are published and the Guthrie estate has invited such artists as Billy Bragg and Wilco in to write music for Guthrie’s large collection of unpublished lyrics, creating new songs to record.

So now you know a little bit more about the man in question what’s the story with the album?Woody2

There are two reasons why calling this album ‘The Greatest Songs of Woody Guthrie’ rather than some variation on the greatest hits idea makes sense. First, Guthrie was out singing these songs before there ever were any Billboard charts to help defiine exactly what constituted a hit. Second, although this album starts with Guthrie himself singing ‘This Land Is Your Land’ clearly his most famous and most popular song, the track shifts to the song being sung by the Weavers. Guthrie sings a few songs and a few duets, but mostly his songs are sung by other artists. So what we have here is a tribute album, originally a double-album now on a single CD, that represents some of the best first and second generation folk singers who followed in the path blazed by America’s troubadour. The first generation would be those artists that actually got to play with Guthrie, which would be not only the Weavers with Pete Seeger (the artist who most closely followed in Guthrie’s footsteps), but also Cisco Houston, Sonny Terry and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. The next generation is represented on the album by Odetta, Joan Baez, and Country Joe McDonald. Yes, there is an authenticity to hearing Guthrie sing his songs that nobody else can touch, but there is also something to be said for other artists replacing his rawness with more of the inherent beauty of his songs. Whichever you prefer there is a wealth of Woody material out there for you. Happy hunting!

Track Listing:
1. This Land Is Your Land- Woody Guthrie/The Weavers
2. Do Re Mi- Cisco Houston
3. So Long, It’s Been Good To Know Yuh- The Weavers
4. Pastures Of Plenty- Odetta
5. Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)- Cisco Houston
6. 900 Miles- Cisco Houston
7. Roll On Columbia- Country Joe McDonald
8. Hard, Ain’t It Hard- Woody Guthrie and Cisco Houston
9. Dirty Overhalls- Woody Guthrie
10. Riding In My Car (Take Me)- Woody Guthrie
11. Ship In The Sky- Cisco Houston
12. The Sinking Of The Reuben James- The Weavers
13. Rambling Round Your City- Odetta
14. Jesus Christ- Cisco Houston
15. When The Curfew Blows- Country Joe McDonald
16. 1913 Massacre- Ramblin’ Jack Elliott
17. Talking Fishing Blues- Ramblin’ Jack Elliott
18. Curly Headed Baby- Cisco Houston
19. Jackhammer John- The Weavers
20. The Great Historical Bum- Odetta
21. Pretty Boy Floyd- Joan Baez
22. Buffalo Skinners- Jim Kweskin
23. Hard Travelin’- Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houston and Sonny Terry

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“A folk song is what’s wrong and how to fix it or it could be
who’s hungry and where their mouth is or
who’s out of work and where the job is or
who’s broke and where the money is or
who’s carrying a gun and where the peace is”

For More Information On Woody Guthrie:

best place to start is the OfficialWebSite * a selection of free music is available at LastFM * Wikipedia * the WoodyGuthrieCenter  is dedicated to celebrating Woody’s life and legacy * Woody100 * the quotes of Woody Wikiquote * The RollingStone articles on Woody * Gerry Adams on Woody Guthrie Léargas *

THE LONDON CELTIC PUNKS ‘Stepping Stones’ CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW SERIES

Part of the ‘Stepping Stones- Classic Album Reviews’ series (click here for the series) where we bring you something a little bit different to what you’re maybe use to. Lost gems from the legends that have inspired and provoked folk music and musicians right up to modern celtic-punk music. Out of print so we can provide a free download link for you.

ALBUM REVIEW: SOLAS- ‘All These Years’ (2016)

Solas plant the flag for Irish-American music…

and it’s the best dang Irish music in the entire world! 

Solas All These Years

Its always been a bit fashionable for people in Ireland to look down their noses at those who find pride in their roots and especially Irish-Americans. A kind of horrible sneer that ranges from mocking the ‘paddy-whackery’ of some to the republicanism of others. Of laughing at their attempts to assert their Irishness to openly putting them down for it. To some in Ireland any attempt to find a sense of pride in their Irish roots is open season to be insulted. People from a certain class who made the Ireland that was the reason our ancestors left in the first place now laugh in the faces of the children of those forced to leave. People who never felt the hunger or cold or were never effected by the recessions or job loss or joblessness that have haunted our wee island. The thing is though that even though we are part of the wider Irish tribe we are NOT Irish per say. What I mean is that we know we were not born in Ireland and what we are is in face Irish-Americans, London-Irish, Scots-Irish, Irish-Australians… in fact anywhere we went we are from there AND Ireland. I know for full well that I was not born in Ireland and I have never pretended to be. I am a product of both my place of birth and my upbringing. I have never considered myself English. Why would I? I supported the same football teams, jockeys, snooker players, show-jumpers  (Eddie Macken rules!) as my friends and cousins in this country who all supported the same as their family. Our Irishness was natural to us. In fact the only ones who thought it unnatural were those lucky (more like privileged) enough not to be forced to emigrate over here as well! Saying that I have always found the Irish in England to have a fascination with Irish-America. After all we come from the same class the only difference being that those that made it to America were seen by those at ‘home’ to have made it. Those that only made it to England were thought to have gone from bad to worse!! Their may be some truth in that as the Irish here never wielded the political power they should have done despite their numbers while over in ‘Amerikay’ they discovered early on that power was everything and the Irish often out muscled other communities to take power.

Solas

We have discussed before the role of music and especially celtic-punk in giving a sense of pride and fitting in to those of Irish ancestry in north America and in the wake of The Pogues Irish-America took celtic-punk and injected it with a power and passion that nowhere else could and then handed it back to the Irish diaspora and wider Celtic diaspora. Its no surprise that celtic-punk is still tiny in Ireland as I’m sure they just don’t get it. It’s not just in celtic-punk though that Irish-America has led and they have also give the traditional folk world a decent kick up the backside too. Solas (pronounced Suh-less) celebrate their 20th anniversary this year and they have travelled the world as the very best band of their generation. Like their fellow countrymen The Dropkick Murphys they took something and pushed the boundaries of what was expectable and have ended up completely redefining how we all think of Irish music.

So here we are in 2016 and to celebrate their 20th anniversary Solas have brought every single person who has performed under the Solas banner together for an all-star, one-time line up. That they can manage to do this is incredible enough (you know what musicians are like!?!?!) but that they can do it and still turn out such a fantastic album as ‘All These Years’ is doubly incredible. The current line up of Solas includes founding members, multi-instrumentalist, Seamus Egan and, amazing fiddler, Winifred Horan. Other members include accordionist Mick McAuley, guitarist Eamon McElholm, and vocalist Moira Smiley. ‘All These Years’ sees the return of all of the vocalists who have starred for Solas over the years. Karan Casey, Deirdre Scanlan, Mairead Phelan, Niamh Varian Barry and Noriana Kennedy as well as early band members like accordionist John Williams, and guitarists John Doyle and Donal Clancy.

“We thought it was a way for us to celebrate the past with all of the people who had been important to us over the years, but we didn’t want use this as an exercise in nostalgia, because we weren’t interested in that at all. Even though we’ve been at it 20 years, I think creatively we’re still as excited about the possibilities as we were back then” ” explains Seamus Egan.

Founded in 1996 in the dark and smoky bars of New York Irish by Seamus Egan and Winifred Horan in Solas are still fuelled by their passion for Irish music and their passion means they refuse to stand still and repeat over and over again what they have already proven to be successful. From their first album, the self titled Solas back in 1996, you can still hear the same explosive energy that still drives them today but they have refused to stand still and it has proved to be the doing of Solas as they have consistently proved.

Solas

The first of the album’s sixteen tracks is ‘Roarie Bummlers’ a lively instrumental number that builds and builds. A roarie bummler is Scots for a fast-moving storm cloud. I will save you the bother of me having to repeat how outstanding each instrument is on each song by telling you that from beginning to end all the instruments are both played to perfection and mixed perfectly as well. This is followed by ‘Standing On The Shore’ and it features Moira Smiley on vocals. Demonstrating their global appeal the track that achieved well over 2,100 plays in under a week.

Solas- Moira Smiley

Moira Smiley

Moira Smiley sings vocals on a cover of Cork born Ger Wolfe’s gloriously understated ‘Lay Me Down’. A touch of Mumford And Sons but as them boys have never had an original thought in their lives it wouldn’t surprise me if it was indeed Solas who actually influenced them! Celtic tunes abound during ‘Lucy Lockets/The Quiet Pint/The Sleepy Sailors’ a foot tapping trip through the Celtic nations while on ‘Wandering Aengus’ Noriana Kennedy takes over vocal duties in another incredibly beautiful version of this epic poem from 1899 by Irish writer and poet William Butler Yeats.

“Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun”

(not the same version as on All These Years but still worth a listen)

Moira Smiley again takes on vocals for the great cover of 60’s/70’s American rockers The Youngbloods ‘Darkness Darkness’. A simple but effective tune accompanies ‘Lost In Quimper’ with Quimper being the ancient capital of Cornouaille in the Celtic nation of Brittany it seems Solas are determined to get around as far as possible on this great album. ‘Unnamed Shetland Reel/Da Full Rigged Ship’ goes beyond foot-tapping into full blown leg slapping head nodding fury and it may even get you up on your feet too if your not careful. This is swiftly followed by the magnificent but tragic republican ballad ‘Padraig Og Mo Chroi’ featuring Deirdre Scanlan on vocals and tells of the death of a young rebel. The title means simply ‘Young Patrick My Heart’.

Karan Casey

Karan Casey

This is followed by two covers of American folk artists with Karan Casey singing on Patty Griffin’s ‘You Are Not Alone’ and Mairead Phelan featuring on Montana born Irish-American artist Martha Scanlon’s ‘Little Bird Of Heaven’. Solas again out do themselves with a fantastic instrumnetal ‘Mr. And Mrs. Walsh’. ‘As I Went Out Walking’ features Moira Smiley and the classic Appalachian song ‘Willie Moore’ is up next featuring Niamh Varian Barry on vocals. The song dates from the 1920’s and was written by Dick Burnett (1887-1977) who also composed the famous ‘Man of Constant Sorrow’ in 1913. He lived in Kentucky and was blinded by a robber’s gunshot in 1907, and (like many blind people in the south) was forced to become an musician. The story of his life possibly contributed to his heartbroken lyrics and ‘Willie Moore’ is no different telling of the suicide of a young girl in love.

“Her parents now are left all alone,
One mourns while the other one weeps;
And in a grassy mound before the cottage door,
The body of sweet Anna still sleeps”

Grief stricken Willie Moore flees to Montreal where he dies of a broken heart. ‘Sixteen Come Next Sunday’ is a traditional song most famously recorded by The Bothy Band on their classic 1976 album Old Hag You Have Killed Me. It features Karan Casey on vocals.

“With my twadigan adigan antin aye
With my twadigan adigan aye do”

The Bothy Band were an outstanding 1970’s band who have gained a reputation as one of the most influential bands in the history of Irish traditional music. The significance of their impact on celtic-rock (and therefore celtic-punk) is unmeasurable. And so it is finally, with another slow and piano laden instrumental titled ‘All These Years’ the album comes to an end. 

Solas

‘All These Years’ lasts an incredible seventy minutes and soars and flows to heights I wouldn’t have imagined possible after the majesty of their previous album Shamrock City. While most bands celebrating an anniversary like this would opt for a safe option like releasing a Best of or a live album Solas have gone well beyond and are to be applauded for bringing back the entire Solas family and recording an album of almost entirely new material. Quite simply this is the best traditional Irish music as played by the best Irish traditional band in the world. Thank God for Irish-America!

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  • There’s a interesting interview with Solas founder member Seamus here from 67 Music web-site.

Discography

1996- Solas, 1997- Sunny Spells And Scattered Showers, 1998- The Words That Remain, 2000- The Hour Before Dawn 2002- The Edge Of Silence 2003- Another Day 2005- Waiting For An Echo 2006- Reunion: A Decade Of Solas 2008- For Love And Laughter 2010- The Turning Tide 2013- Shamrock City

(here is a full concert performance of Solas playing the entire ‘Shamrock City’ concept album. This was one of the first reviews to appear on this site (here) and is a joy to behold. Put the kettle on and sit back and enjoy this concert)

FILM REVIEW: THE REVENGE OF THE MEKONS (2013)

“the band that took punk ideology most seriously”

Directer: Joe Angio    Release Date: November, 2013  Running Time: 99 minutes

“A loving ode to an unsung band” – LA Times
“Marvelous” – New York Post
“Jubilant” – The Village Voice

Revenge-of-the-Mekons

Emerging soon after the first blasts of UK punk rock, the Mekons went from being a group of socialist art students with no musical skills to the prolific, raucous, rabble rousing progeny of country legend Hank Williams. Formed in Leeds by Jon Langford, Kevin Lycett, Mark White, Andy Corrigan and Tom Greenhalgh they were from the outset highly principled stating

”That anybody could do it; that we didn’t want to be stars; that there was no set group as such, anybody could get up and join in and instruments would be swapped around; that there’d be no distance between the audience and the band; that we were nobody special”

They took the band’s name from the Mekon, an evil character from the Dan Dare comic strip in the popular 1950’s comic The Eagle which briefly resurfaced when I was a kid in the 80’s. Their first single, released in 1978, was ‘Never Been in a Riot’, a piss take of The Clash’s ‘White Riot’ and was a masterpiece of simplistic DIY punk, rock and roll.

The band carried on for several years playing their noisy brand of post-punk rock releasing singles on a variety of labels and their first album, The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strnen, was recorded using a friends bands instruments. Due to an error by the record company art department the cover featured pictures of, fellow Leeds band, Gang of Four by mistake. After The Mekons Story compilation in 1982 the band called it a day, with Langford forming The Three Johns.

They soon returned and began pumping out album after album again on a multitude of labels and even at one time making it onto a major though the resulting album was a commercial flop and though it was loved by the fans they were soon dropped like the proverbial hot potato and cut adrift again.

mekons mekons mekons

click for download link

Over the years and as the band have learnt to play their instruments their musical style has transformed and The Mekons are now as famous for playing country and folk music as well as brief forays into rock and even dub reggae. With around twenty albums to their name plus untold amount of singles and EP’s as well appearances on dozens of compilations they have a massive discography so a good place to start would be Mekons, Mekons, Mekons which you can download by clicking on the record cover on the right. It covers the years 1987-1992 which includes both their punkier days and their transformation into a post-punk, cowpunk or alt-country band (or whatever label the press give them at that moment in time).

Around 1985’s brilliant Fear And Whiskey the first signs of a full on change in style began to show. Taking the outlaw country’n’western of Hank Williams/Johnny Cash rather than the cowboy hat and glitter of Nashville and The Mekons successfully reinvented themselves. Joe Angio’s exuberant film ‘Revenge Of The Mekons’ documents the unlikely career of this genre-defying collective. Following their improbable history- a surprising and influential embrace of folk and country music, forays into the art world and consistent bad luck with major record labels. Featuring interviews with fans, from musician Will Oldham, author Jonathan Franzen to film director Mary Harron and comedian Fred Armisen, ‘Revenge Of The Mekons’ reveals four decades into an ever-evolving career how The Mekons continue to make bold, unpredictable music while staying true to the punk roots.

Mekons at the Poetry Foundation July 2015

Mekons circa 2015 left to right: Lu Edmonds, Tom Greenhalgh, Steve Goulding, Sally Timms, Jon Langford, Susie Honeyman, Rico Bell (not pictured: Sarah Corina)

Critically and cultishly adored The Mekons deserve to be much more well known and this film reveals how, four decades into a still-evolving career, the Mekons continue to make original, genre-defying music while staying true to the punk ethos.

(Q&A and performance with band members Jon Langford and Lu Edmunds following the screening of Revenge of the Mekons in 2015)

WATCH REVENGE OF THE MEKONS

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Buy The Documentary

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Contact The Band

Facebook  UnofficialWebSite  BloodshotRecords

The Mekons On The Web

The 10 Best Mekons Songs here * LastFM * AllMusic * The Mekons Blog here * The Mekons discography reviews here  A Skeptic’s Guide To The Mekons here * Toppermost here

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW: WOMEN FOLK- ‘Iconic Women Of American Folk’

This compilation explores four pioneers of the first wave of the American folk movement.

Women Folk

Today is ‘International Women’s Day’ so when better than to give you this excellent compilation featuring five of the greatest ever folk music artists to have ever lived. Sadly three of the five are no longer with us and only one is still performing but this music represents the pioneers of the folk music movement in America. These women went on to influence the likes of Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and Judy Collins directly as well as all who those who followed in their footsteps.

From Odetta considered one of the most influential artists of the 20th Century to Jean Ritchie the mother of Appalachian folk music, responsible for exposing us to a treasure trove of material passed down from her ancestors that have since become staples of the world-wide folk scene. Carolyn Hester invited Bob Dylan to play harmonica on her first Columbia record which led to him signing with the label while Barbara Dane raised the bar for all singers when she burst onto the scene in the early 1950’s and a little lady from the Southern Appalachians named Etta Baker set the standard for folk guitarists everywhere.

So five amazing artists that refused to compromise and became legends in their own lifetimes. We salute them and offer you a free download of this great introduction to their work. If you are interested in similar music then why not get yourself over to Zero G Sound (here) and check out the outstanding selection of free album downloads available.

ODETTA

Women Folk 1Odetta Holmes (1930–2008) was an American singer, actress, guitarist, songwriter, and a civil and human rights activist, often referred to as ‘The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement’. Born in Birmingham, Alabama she grew up in Los Angeles and her musical repertoire consisted largely of folk music, blues, jazz ans spirituals. An important figure in the American folk music revival of the 1950’s and 1960’s, she influenced many of the key figures of the folk-revival of that time, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Janis Joplin. Time magazine included her song ‘Take This Hammer’ on its list of the All-Time 100 Songs, stating that “Rosa Parks was her number one fan” and that Martin Luther King Jr. called her the “queen of American folk music”. . Before Odetta no solo woman had ever toured the world singing. Known for her incredibly powerful stage presence and her ability to command the simplest instruments, from voice to clapping hands, as well as her mastery of acoustic guitar.

ETTA BAKER

Etta BakerBorn Etta Lucille Reid (1913–2006) she was an American Piedmont blues guitarist and singer from North Carolina. Piedmont blues (also known as East Coast or Southeastern blues) refers primarily to a guitar style, which is characterized by finger picking. She played both the 6-string and 12-string forms of the acoustic guitar, as well as the five-string banjo. Taught by her father, who was also a long time player of the Piedmont Blues on several instruments, Etta first recorded in the summer of 1956 and over the years shared her knowledge with many well known musical artists including Bob Dylan, Taj Mahal and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Etta received multiple awards and went on to have nine children sadly a son was killed in the Vietnam War.

BARBARA DANE

Barbara DaneBorn in Detroit in 1927 but arrived in Arkansas soon after Barbara Dane is an American folk, blues and jazz legend. Time magazine said of her that “voice is pure, rich and rare as a 20 karat diamond”. At high school she began to sing regularly at demonstrations for racial equality and economic justice. While still in her teens, she got an offer to tour with Alvino Rey’s band, but turned it down in favour of singing at factory gates and union halls. Moving to San Francisco in 1949, Barbara began raising a family and performed regularly on radio and early TV. In 1966 she became the first American musician to tour post-revolutionary Cuba. She once said

“I was too stubborn to hire one of the greed-head managers, probably because I’m a woman who likes to speak for herself. I always made my own deals and contracts, and after figuring out the economics of it, I was free to choose when and where I worked, able to spend lots more time with my three children and doing political work, and even brought home more money in the end, by not going for the ‘bigtime’. I did make some really nice records, because I was able to choose and work with wonderfully gifted musicians.”

JEAN RITCHIE

Jean RitchieJean Ritchie (1922-2015) was an American folk music singer, songwriter, and Appalachian dulcimer player. Born in Perry County in the Cumberland Mountains of south eastern Kentucky Jean came from  one of the two ‘great ballad-singing families’ of Kentucky celebrated among folk song scholars. The youngest of 14 siblings Jean recalled later in life that when the family acquired a radio in the late 1940’s they discovered that what they had been singing all their lives was called hillbilly music, a word they had never heard before. Jean became known as ‘The Mother of Folk’ performing work songs and ballads as well as hymns. Some of her late 1950’s/early 60’s songs on mining she published under the pseudonym “‘Than Hall’ to avoid troubling her non-political mother. Her album ‘None But One’ was awarded the Rolling Stone Critics Award in 1977 and in 2002, Ritchie received the National Endowment For The Arts National Heritage Fellowship, America’s highest honour in folk and traditional arts.

CAROLYN HESTER

Carolyn HesterAmerican folk singer and songwriter born in 1937 in in Waco, Texas. She was a figure in the early 1960’s folk music revival. Her first LP was in 1957 and she made her second album for Tradition Records, run by the Clancy Brothers, in 1960. Dubbed ‘The Texas Songbird’ Carolyn was politically active, spearheading the controversial boycott of the television programme Hootenanny when Pete Seeger was blacklisted from it. She became famous for ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ and ‘She Moved Through the Fair’ as well as multiple albums and TV and radio appearances throughout the 1960’s and subsequent decades. She continues to perform regularly with her daughters.

Tracklist:

1. Sail Away Ladies- Odetta
2. Railroad Bill- Etta Baker
3. When I Was A Young Girl- Barbara Dane
4. The Bashful Courtship- Jean Ritchie
5. Go ‘way From My Window- Carolyn Hester
6. Midnight Special- Odetta
7. Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad- Etta Baker
8. Nine Hundred Miles- Barbara Dane
9. The Old Grey Goose Is Dead- Jean Ritchie
10. The Water Is Wide- Carolyn Hester
11. He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands- Odetta
12. John Henry- Etta Baker
13. The Danville Girl- Barbara Dane
14. The Blackest Crow- Jean Ritchie
15. House Of The Rising Sun- Carolyn Hester
16. Take This Hammer- Odetta
17. One Dime Blues- Etta Baker
18. Ramblin’- Barbara Dane
19. Wonderous Love- Jean Ritchie
20. Summertime- Carolyn Hester

DOWNLOAD ‘WOMEN FOLK- ICONS OF AMERICAN FOLK’ FOR FREE

HERE

Part of the ‘Classic Album Reviews- London Celtic Punks Steppin’ Stones’ series (click here for the entire series) where we bring you something a little bit different to what you’re use to. Lost gems that have inspired and provoked folk music and musicians right up to modern celtic-punk music. Usually out of print so we can provide a free download link for you.

  • Interesting article appeared recently on ‘Come Here To Me!’ a fantastic web-site on Dublin life and culture. ‘Lonnie Donegan – My Only Son Was Killed in Dublin’ features some info on Odetta that has passed me by. Check it out here.

HOW THE IRISH AND THE SCOTS INFLUENCED AMERICAN MUSIC

By Erik Devaney

During the 19th-century, song-smiths in southern Appalachia, who had absorbed African rhythms from local slave populations, began fusing these rhythms with elements of celtic folk music, thus forming the basis of the country music genre.

The influence of Celtic folk music in the South began before the start of the American Revolution. As early as 1717, waves of Scots-Irish immigrants were pouring into North America. By 1790, 3 million of these immigrants called America home. The Scots-Irish, also known as Scotch-Irish or Ulster-Scots, were Presbyterian Scots who had previously settled in Ulster as a result of Britain’s plan for a Protestant plantation in Ireland.

Separate waves of Scottish immigration to North America occurred starting in 1725 as a result of the Highland Clearances, while Irish Catholics would not arrive on the scene in great numbers until 1847: a result of the so called ‘famine. Despite their ideological differences, these Scottish and Irish immigrants shared a Celtic musical tradition, which employed many of the same techniques for playing, composing and arranging music. These techniques had a profound influence on that ‘country sound’ we are familiar with today.

SOUND STRATEGIES
cap
The Vocal Harmony Hoe-Down
When two or more singers sing in harmony, or harmonize, the notes they sing are different, while the resulting sound they produce is unified and, typically, pleasing to the ears. Of course, the Irish and Scottish didn’t invent the concept of harmony, but they did have a tradition of using it in group sing-a-long settings. Gaelic-speakers in the Old World were distilling and drinking moonshine and crooning harmoniously, the perfect accompaniment for a bit of Poitín, well before Appalachian ‘hillbillies’ began carrying on the tradition in the New World.

Like their Celtic musician forefathers,  country musicians often employ vocal harmonies in the choruses, or repeated portions, of songs. This strategy helps stress the importance and increase the forcefulness of the choruses while also separating them sound-wise from the verses. Check out the use of vocal harmonies in the choruses of Okie from Muskogee by Merle Haggard and compare it to the use of harmonies in the choruses of the Celtic song, Mairi’s Wedding, as performed by The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem.

Enter The Drone
If you find that some country or Celtic songs have hypnotic qualities to them, mesmerizing you as you listen, this phenomenon could be the result of a drone. A drone is a note or chord that sounds continuously throughout most, if not all, of a song, providing an underlying, trance-like accompaniment for the song’s melody. Musicians can create drones vocally or with virtually any pitch-controlled instrument. Country musicians, such as  fiddlers and slide-guitarists, adopted droning from Scottish and Irish settlers, who were accustomed to producing drones with fiddles as well as bagpipes.
Listen for the drone in Fiddlin’ John Carson’s song, He Rambled, and compare it to the drone in the Scottish march, The Campbells Are Coming.
LYRICAL CONTENT
Scottish-Irish settlement in America

Scottish-Irish settlement in America

The Sob Story

Listen to a country music radio station long enough and you will hear a sob story: a song about a father abandoning his son (see Walk A Little Straighter Daddy by Billy Currington), a song about a woman abandoning her man (see When I Call Your Name by Vince Gill) or, worst of all, a song about a boyfriend dumping his girlfriend and then letting his new girlfriend drive his pick-up truck, something he never let the old girlfriend do (see Picture To Burn by Taylor Swift). The nerve of that guy, really, what a plum.
Singing sorrowfully about the heartbreaks we suffer in life may not have been a distinctively Irish or Scottish creation, but Irish and Scottish immigrants certainly brought a tradition of sob stories with them when they showed up on the shores of Amerikay. Subject matter included longing for love (see Black Is The Colour), losing children (see The Wife of Usher’s Well) and leaving behind a troubled home only to encounter new troubles abroad (see By The Hush).

The Drinking Song

Before Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffet sang It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere, before Tracy Byrd sang Ten Rounds With José Cuervo and before Brad Paisley sang the utilitarian-titled Alcohol, Celtic musicians were singing drinking songs that put forth similar, contradictory messages: alcohol is evil (see Whiskey, You’re The Devil), but drinking it can be comforting and a quite joyous experience (see Beer, Beer Beer). Homer Simpson summed up the lyrical style of Celtic/country drinking songs beautifully when he toasted
“Here’s to alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems”
INSTRUMENTATION
The Fantastic Mr. Fiddle
fiddleThe use of the fiddle in country music pre-dates the use of the guitar. To clarify, a fiddle is, physically, the same instrument as a violin. The difference is perception: most classical violinists get offended when you call them fiddlers, as they consider fiddling to be an informal, inferior type of playing… what a bunch of jerks.
Scottish and Irish immigrants brought fiddles with them to North America and successive generations in the South morphed their Celtic jigs and reels into tunes of their own. Many of the founding fathers of country music, such as Fiddlin’ John Carson, mentioned above, and Eck Robertson, were solo fiddlers. Apart from bringing fiddles and fiddle music to the American South, the Scottish and Irish brought highly energetic and interactive dancing styles to accompany fiddling, which formed the basis for country square dancing.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Banjo
banjoThe banjo does not have Celtic origins.
African slaves brought the tradition of building banjos with them when they were transported to the New World; a tradition that required stretching strings across animal-skin drums.
However, when musically-inclined inhabitants of the Appalachians got their hands on banjos, they used them to play the fiddle tunes that they had learned from the Scottish and Irish.
The plot thickens: in the 19th century, banjos crossed the Atlantic, for a second time, and musicians in Ireland and Scotland began incorporating the African/American instruments into traditional Celtic music. The The Dubliners are a great example of a Celtic folk band that adopted the banjo.

Further Reading:
Ceolas: Celtic Music Instruments
Thanks For The Music: The Fiddle in Country Music
BluegrassBanjo.org: History of the Banjo
Who Are The Scotch Irish?

* Erik ran a fantastic web-site called ‘The Bard Of Boston’ which you can check out here even though he stopped publishing a few years back I hope you stick check it out  as some of the articles are extremely interesting and Erik is never dull. You can contact Erik here via his web-site.
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