Irish-American Celtic-rockers The Langer’s Ball are back in town with their first release as just a duo in over eight years.Writing, touring and performing for over a decade The Langer’s Ball play their own brand of traditional drinking songs and original material with a thumping beat and a flurry of notes and harmonies. Hard-hitting and bigger than you’d expect a duo could ever be you’ll dash to refill your drink and cheer for more!
The Langer’s Ball have featured on these pages several times over the years with a multitude of releases and news and here they come again with the release of their fourth studio album Hard Time in the Country. As usual the album features a band that knows it way round an old fashioned tune and contains a fantastic mix of both American and Irish Folk-Punk. The last time they featured on these pages I had this to say and as I don’t think I will say it better I’ll repeat it here.
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.
Back in February, 2017 The Langer’s Ball announced they were making their entire (yes their entire) back catalogue available for free download via the band’s Bandcamp page so head over their soon as you finish reading this and get downloading.
The Langer’s Ball hail from Saint Paul in Minnesota and it’s a place where the Irish make up the second largest population of the city at a well decent 14%. The largest at over double that is people of German descent and despite being only half their number the Irish learnt very early on that power lays not just in numbers but in control of City Hall. These days, of course, the Irish are no longer running things but it’s still no surprise to find Irish surnames dominating among local government, the Police and the Fire Service. The Langer’s Ball have been together since 2007 starting off as a duo with Michael and Hannah releasing a couple of albums that were well received by the national, and international, celtic-punk community. Persuaded by this reception they decided to try and fill out their sound and so set out to recruit some musicians and it wasn’t too long before the full line up of The Langer’s Ball was born.
The band take their name from the Irish word ‘Langer’ which has three meanings one being a right eejit (-idiot), and the others being pissed or your dick! I can only hope you can guess which one the band want you to associate with them! Since those two early LP’s in 2007 and 2008 they have gone on to release ‘Drunk, Sick, Tired’, a live St Patrick’s day recording, in 2011 and ‘The Devil, Or The Barrel’ in 2012. They followed this with 2014’s ‘7 Year Itch’ which we reviewed here and was so called because it heralded the seventh anniversary of The Langer’s Ball’s existence. Then came 2016’s Whiskey Outlaws, here, 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.
So a few years without a release but the band have by no means been quiet and as I have followed them from afar they have never seem to have stopped touring in all the years since Whiskey Outlaws. Hard Time In The Country captures The Langer’s Ball perfectly with a wide range of ballads, and acoustic Celtic-Punk taking in both modern and traditional songs with of course a ‘craicing’ drinking song! The album begins with a cover of the Billy Bragg penned number ‘Constitution Hill’ from his 2011 album ‘Fight Songs’. It showed a sort of return to form for Mr. Bragg away from his twee middle class stuff of recent years to angry polemic. Sung acapela with Michael leading the way joined by The Langer’s Ball choir of friends and misfits for the chorus. It’s a great song and Michael’s voice is strong and passionate and he sings with great conviction. This is followed by a rousing instrumental ‘Justin’s Favourite’ with Hannah on tin-whistle and it’s a lovely, jaunty wee Irish folk song that will surely get the foot a-tappin and the thigh a-slappin’! Next up is ‘No Irish Need Apply’ which is based upon the times that the Irish were discriminated against in the United States and signs and adverts were often posted with the words No Irish Need Apply. The song shares a few lines with the great Wolfe Tones song of the same name but The Langers’s Ball give it a new twist and even extol a nice bit of retribution for what these bastards did to our ancestors.
“Well I couldn’t stand it longer, so ahold of him I took
And I gave him such a beating as he’d get at Donnybrook
He hollered “Milia murther,” and to get away did try
And swore he’d never write again ‘No Irish Need Apply’
He made a big apology, I bid him then good-bye
Saying “next you want a beating, write ‘No Irish Need Apply'”
Next time the child of some millionaire decides to lecture you on so called ‘white privilege’ point them to here to learn about how the Irish suffered and were mistreated and abused on arrival on Amerikay’s shores. The songs come fast furious and ‘Meet Me Where You’re Going’ is again a nice twist on things and here Michael and Hannah sing a lovely Americana/Country twinged folk ballad together. Written by Craig Minowa for fellow Minnesotan band Cloud Cult’s 2013 album Love. Its a beautiful love song and leads us nicely into the Celtic-Punk favourite ‘Dirty Old Town’.
Covered and played by all and sundry I sometimes think it’s been done to death but every time I see it on a track listing I’m always curious to see what a band is going to do with it. Here Michael again voices it with passion and conviction and its basic background of only whistle and acoustic guitar lends it a power you don’t often hear with this song. Stripped of its ‘Irishness’ (it is in fact a English song written by a second generation Scot- Ewan MacColl) its a great piece of Americana and I always prefer to hear it sung in the singers original voice/accent. They delve further into the past next with ‘Penny’s Farm’. Their is no record of how long this song actual is except it was recorded by The Bentlys on their one and only record released in 1929. The song is about farmers protests and the mortgage mentioned in the song in the song was a so-called chattel mortgage, which was backed by the farmer’s few possessions as well as his next year’s crop. Five days after The Bentleys recorded this song the stock market’s Black Monday came and life out on Penny’s farm got a lot tougher with The Great Depression and The Dust Bowl.
“With their hands in their pockets and their head hanging down.
Go in the store and the merchant will say,
“Your mortgage is due and I’m looking for my pay.”
It’s a-hard times in the country,
Out on Penny’s farm.”
As mentioned already (several times!) Michael’s voice is brilliant at capturing the mood of these songs and Hannah’s accordion whisks you back to those dark days. We stay in the past but in a very modern way with ‘Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key’ a beautiful version of a song that appeared on the 1998 album Mermaid Avenue where previously unheard lyrics of Woody Guthrie were put to music and performed by Billy Bragg and Wilco. Known for his working class anthems its an incredibly beautiful song and sure its done justice too here. Woody Guthrie was possibly the most important folk- music figure in American history. His influence on music is beyond measure and far too many have cited him as an influence to go into here. Michael and Hannah play it slightly more upbeat and again Hannah’s accordion is superb. A real nice surprise and just shows their was so much more to Woody than many of us give him credit. The album is laid out very nicely and with so many diverse tunes on board its been designed to fit very well and despite shunting from upbeat to manic sometimes it flows very well and the same can be said here of ‘Beans, Bacon And Gravy’ which follows here. Fast and manic and again we are in the days of The Great Depression. A time so bad it demands its own capital letters! The singer is so sick of eating the same thing over and over again he even sees them in his dreams! The great Pete Seeger wrote that the song
“probably grew over the years being polished by any number of Depression-weary workers who could laugh the bitter laugh of irony—so often a man’s best friend when times are hard.”
And how true. It was often humour that got the poor and down trodden and dispossessed through the hard times (but its always good to hear of someone getting their just desserts too, as in ‘No Irish Need Apply). At first glance on the track listing I took the next song ‘1916’ to be about the tragic heroic rebellion of Dublin but then I noticed the credit to one Ian Kilmister and I realised the song was indeed a cover of Motorhead song as penned by Lemmy himself. May he rest in peace. The song, as you can imagine, is nothing like the original but is given the Folk-Punk treatment and you can finally take in Lemmys words about a young lad heading off to the trenches in the First World War in all its blood drenched glory. A simple accompaniment told with passion. So onto ‘I’ll Tell Me Ma’ and here just re-read what I said about ‘Dirty Old Town’. Its not exactly a rare song to hear but its sung and played with gusto and will have the crowds, young and old, joining in! Being a strong advocate of people joining their trade union its great to hear ‘Picket Line Song’. Written by Evan Greer for the 2009 album Some New Songs.
“Mom called him a dirty scab and gave him two pieces of her mind
she picked up and she threw every rock that she could find
and when he called the cops on her she kicked his behind
and said that’s what you get when you walk across a union’s picket line!”
We nearing the end and ‘Hoist Your Cup High’ is The Langers’s Ball at their best. As much as I love the songs that mean something nothing means more to me than a good drinking song! It has a feel of Ireland, Germany, Eastern Europe about it and Michael raises a glass to all his departed friends and family and hoists his cup high as when we are dead we may not drink at all! The album ends with an unusual version of ‘The Parting Glass’ usually sang as a slow ballad here its given an upbeat version and I have to say I absolutely love it. Its an old song some say from before 1770’s and recorded countless times but in the hands of musicians with pride, love and respect it can become almost new and original.
Hard Time in the Country shows the roots of The Langer’s Ball and it is their willingness to dip into the past that sets them apart from their contempories in the American Celtic-Punk scene. They can take songs from the likes of Billy Bragg, Woody Guthrie and Motorhead take them away and breathe new life into them. Not for The Langer’s the easy route of simply covering a song, they are determined to stamp their brand on everything they do and turn it into their own. It is this knowledge of the folk and rock scene which makes their choice of songs so interesting and adds so much to what they do then their is always something for everyone to enjoy. A band that sets the brain and the heart racing The Langer’s Ball are constantly evolving and constantly improving so get on board and join them on their journey.
(have a listen to Hard Time in the Country via The Langer’s Ball Bandcamp page before you buy (its only 4) but rememeber all (yes all!) their back catalogue is available as a free download but leave a donation if you can)
Buy Hard Time in the Country
Contact The Langer’s Ball