The Muckers are a five-piece Celtic-Folk-Punk band from Atlanta. With a strong emphasis on Irish music, the band also blends influences of Gypsy music, sea shanties, Country, Rockabilly, and anything else they can get their hands on. According to TC Costello their name doesn’t mean what you think it means.
A year ago I found myself at DragonCon, one of the largest sci fi and fantasy conventions in the galaxy. 85,000 fans descended upon the city of Atlanta in sweltering heat to celebrate their fandom with costumes, medieval fighting demonstrations, and panels featuring famous actors (not a bad a place busking, either) but when not playing the ‘Game Of Thrones’ intro or the underwater theme from ‘Super Mario Brothers’ on accordion, I was fortunate enough to catch The Muckers, an Atlanta Celtic-Punk band I had heard of for the last year or so, but had never seen live, and what a live show it was! Aside from the twirling of light sabers, passing around of warm beers, and Star-Trek-uniformed mosh pits, The Muckers proved to be one of the most fun Celtic bands I’ve ever seen. The entire audience had huge smiles on their faces, and when they kicked out a rendition of “Drunken Lullabies,” no one in the crowd could keep still.
Frontman Jeff Shaw switched between fiddle and mandolin while providing plenty of banter, and Dave Long played some very Pogues-influenced accordion, while Randall English, Brady Trulove and Steve Lingo provided a nonstop folk-rock rhythm section with electric bass, acoustic guitar, and drums. Their set even featured a rendition of “Seven Drunken Nights” where the pipe “was made of glass instead of wood and had a little hole in the side,” and it became apparent that Long was the one cuckolding his bandmate Shaw. Never trust an accordion player. The enjoyment was so pervasive that I felt like I had no choice but to see them three more times during the convention. I was a bit skeptical that they could recreate such an atmosphere with a recorded album, but they do that and more with their latest effort, “Irish Goodbye” while sneaking in some truly heartbreaking material as well. Before the bleakness though, the craic is 90 with the ska-influenced Celtic-riffing opener, “Queen of the Pit,” an ode to the band’s friend Meg, who proved herself adept at moshing during Flogging Molly’s Salty Dog Cruise. Shaw sings in the chorus:
“Throwing her elbows, swinging her hair
Don’t start a fight ‘cause she don’t fight fair
Running in circles, you know she won’t quit
Get out of the way! She’s the queen of the pit”
They follow with “Rock on Rockall,” an Irish Protest song regarding Rockall Island, which The Irish Government claims as Irish and the UK government says is part of Scotland. Given that The Wolfe Tones made the song famous, it shouldn’t be hard to guess which side The Muckers take.
A melancholy fiddle intro leads into the “Buzzard’s Bay” a tribute to Shaw’s friend Johnny Pike. Lyrically sparse, the song reflects on Pike’s tragic drowning in Buzzards Bay Massachusetts:
“A Boston boy named Johnny Pike
Disappeared on a summer night
Cold New England water took his life
Now he’ll never walk on land
23 is far too young to die
Unfinished life pulled out on the tide
John is gone we lost him to the sea
Left behind just washed out memories
Got in too deep, there’s nothing left to say
They found him floating out on Buzzards Bay”
Accordionist Dave Long takes the lead vocals next, with another protest song, “Building up and Tearing England Down.” With a vocal delivery somewhere between Shane McGowan and NOFX’s Fat Mike, this tale of fatalities in the English construction industry may be the perfect protest song to get people out of the pub and up to the barricades. In addition to accounts of falling off a hydro dam, death by concrete mixer, and one particularly gruesome incident with a high tension wire, this song features a blistering accordion solo that is just fantastic– and reminds me I should practice more.
They lighten the mood during a quartet of songs that seems to reclaim copyrighted material as folk songs. The songs present them as something to be changed and reinterpreted. The first is “Whale of a Tale,” a narration of nautical naughtiness that I only recently learned is from Disney’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” Bassist Randall English takes the lead on this one, telling us of maritime romances that include:
Met her on the coast of Java
When we kissed I,
Bubbled up like molten lava
Then she gave me, the scare of my young life
Blow me down and pick me up
She was the captain’s wife!”
Lead vocals on this track are a joint effort, as Jeff Shaw sneaks a version of “Rare Ould Mountain Dew” that’s not about whisky, but rather that “Keefy Stuff from California”: “If the police come, try to stop our fun and lock us all away/ Away we’ll go and smoke a bowl of the good green Mary Jane.” After that high note of bridge the band blazes through one final verse about Harpoon Hannah.
Next, drummer Steve Lingo takes over lead vocals on a faithful cover of the Rumjack’s reflection on other possible life stories, “My Time Again.” Guitarist Brady Trulove next sings The Pogues; wartime waltz “A Pair of Brown Eyes.” Then the band puts The Ramones classic, “Sheena is a punk Rocker,” through a Celtic-Punk filter. While the Ramones’ “Sheena” leaves the beach party life for New York city’s part scene, The Muckers’ “Saorise” and friends dress in Scallies (another word for a flat cap) kilts and go to Ri Ra– Irish pubs in Atlanta.
Following the band is all revved up and ready to go with the Rockabilly-inspired drinking song, “Out on My Ass.” Shaw says,
“While you could easily mistake that for one of our silly drinking songs, I consider that a tragic song. A man is throwing his life away for alcohol.” Indeed, during this song’s drunken hijinks, the narrator loses his marriage, his life’s savings, his home, and is possibly bound for eternal damnation.”
Next is a cover of George Gershwin’s bluesy classic “Summertime.” It starts pretty traditionally, with some jazzy accordion licks the mandolin emulating some high-on-the-neck jazz guitar. Little did i know Trulove, Lingo and English were biding their time before launching into a high-octane, almost hardcore punk second verse. When I first heard it live, I wasn’t totally enamored with the idea, but the Muckers won me over, and by the end of it, I was moshing alongside Trekkies. Closing the album is the country-tinged title track. While mysterious in its origins, the term “Irish Goodbye” means leaving without announcing your departure. Shaw uses this as a metaphor for his divorce: “While we were still together we had a fight, and when I woke up she was gone. That wasn’t the real end of the relationship, but that feeling of waking up and finding your partner has left is what I based the song on.”
“The halls echo empty, there’s a ghost that sleeps in my bed
My heartbeat has flatlined, the stoplights all turned green to red
I know deep inside must’ve been something I could’ve said
To keep her by my side instead of an Irish goodbye”
Buy Irish Goodbye FromTheBand-CD
(The Muckers full band Live Stream set from the PaddyRock Festival last month)