From The Gallows is the fourth album from German Celtic folk punk band Tir Nan Og. Released in January 2018 according to Marvey Mills it delivers an instant slab of authentic folk punk loveliness from the opening song to the very last drop of the fourteenth track.
It is necessary, when reviewing an album, to draw comparisons with others of the genre in order to locate it in the broad and diverse spectrum, for the delight and delectation of the reader. I have found that many European Celtic folk punk bands tend to focus on a few keys themes; drinking, fighting and wenching, wrapped up in fast aggressive tunes with the distorted guitar turned up to 11 and the drummer beating out a rhythm like a runaway train. Songs you might imagine singing along with at the top of your voice, pint of booze in one hand and the other clenched in a fist punching the air in defiance of the oppressive overlords of the past. From the Gallows is not one of those albums. Think of a combination of Black Water County, The Biblecode Sundays and Mad Dog Mcrea with a little of the whimsy of Merry Hell thrown in for good measure and you will get somewhere close. Don’t get me wrong, all those good old familiar party themes are well represented here, but the musical underpinning is layered, sophisticated, varied, skilfully delivered and occasionally surprising.
The opening track, “O’ Hanlon’s Last Words”, sets out the stall for the album and I knew by twenty seconds in that I would love the whole album. Leading from the front with some capering-pace solid fiddle licks and acoustic strums it melds seamlessly into the opening lyrics. Robert Meyer, the most Irish sounding German voice I have ever heard, delivers “Bless me Father for I have sinned done quite an evil deed”. His gravelly tones supported by dancing flute riffs, you know instantly where this track is going. He is joined on vocals by Sarah Kucharek, sounding for all the world like Shannon from Black Water County, in some fabulous backing harmonies as the song build pace.
Loosely themed, naturally enough, around the struggles of life and death with the shadow of the gallows ever-present, the album keeps up a blistering pace, throwing in the ubiquitous tin whistle, flute and some alternative percussion I could not quite identify, as it romps from song to song. By track three, Sarah takes over on lead vocals on the excellent “Firestorm” with scaffolding ably provided by some growling fiddle, droning pipes (maybe!) and backing harmonies from the rest of the band. The thoughtful fourth track “Monster (In My Mind)” dials down the pace a little and is pushed along by interwoven flute and whistle harmonies, with a beautiful flute and fiddle breakdown towards the end.
Sarah returns on haunting lead vocals for my personal favourite track on the album, ‘Last Farewell’, telling the sorry tale of Myles Joyce, one of three men wrongfully convicted and hanged in 1882 for the murder of a local family on the border between Mayo and Galway after a shameful trial by British authorities. “Toll for me the Angelus bell, let it ring let it sing my last farewell”.
The pathos is punctured admirably by the next two tracks “Three Nights in Town” and “Shaun O’Malley”. Riotous and ribald romps documenting the misfortunes of drinking too much when seeking romance and of being mistaken for the ne’er-do-well Mr O’Malley wherever the author turns. The latter being the perfect song for spinning and reeling audience participation at any whiskey-fuelled gig at a certain point in the evening! I am looking forward to being in that crowd one day, screaming “Who the fuck is Shaun O’Malley” along with the band onstage.
The fun doesn’t end there though. Seven more tracks complete the album, including two bonus tracks, with the instrumental “Bastard Reel” being a standout joyous and fiddle-driven reel, with one of the final songs sung in the band’s native tongue. The final track “Johnny Pirate”, with alternating English and German verses, is happy pirate rock documenting the life and times of Johnny Depp!
Tir Nan Og’s music is familiar, even on the first listen. Authentic and eclectic in its influences it draws on a pantheon of instantly recognisable themes. This absorbs you, quickly and completely. But just when you think you know where it is going, the band changes tempo, drops in a change, adds a different instrument or goes in a new direction. That is one of things I really enjoyed about this album, it never seems to get complacent or relies on regurgitating that which has gone before. Skilled and layered musicianship expertly woven together with glorious vocals and harmonies create dynamism and energy exhibited by the best that Celtic folk punk has to offer. I like this band so much I am off to purchase their first three albums and I will be looking out for them eagerly on the gig and festival circuit.
Ardacris (2016) * Jack Of Folk (2015) * Bitter Brew (2012) * After Work (2019) *
Buy From The Gallows
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