The Crook and The Dylan’s draw their roots from the land of St. Patrick while mixing influences from rock and country with all the energy of an evening in an Irish pub.
Before I start to wax lyrical about this great album I have to explain something first about celtic-punk. Like all music genre’s its boundaries are vast and along the edges extremely blurred. For instance the two major bands in the scene Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys are clearly miles apart yet inhabit the same space and share the same fans. Also with a scene that encompasses so much traditional folk music some of the most popular bands in celtic-punk aren’t even punk at all with the best examples being the trad folk/ballad bands The Dubliners and The Clancy Brothers. Even The Pogues couldn’t be really called a punk band but the punk ethos and ‘spirit’ they had in spades. I only mention this as not every band we feature here are strictly celtic-punk and we are, and have been, happy to feature bands from the Celtic diaspora who play hip-hop or metal as well as bands who not have Celtic roots but love the music and traditions. The Crook And The Dylan’s then are a perfect example of what I mean. Formed in 2010 in the French region of Cergy-Pontoise, northwest of Paris they have taken Irish music and fused it with French folk music to make something that is both very interesting and extremely good!
French celtic-punk bands have never been shy about introducing their own sounds into the mix and influences from bands like the aforementioned Irish ones as well as better known French bands like Mano Negra or Les Négresses Vertes combine to give The Crook & The Dylan’s quite the unique sound. Their first release, a self-titled four track EP, came out in early 2011 and shows a band in its early development. A stripped back folky feel good record that includes the brilliant track ‘Ireland’.
Not much sign of their later celtic-ness but worthy of at least a listen. They followed this up with another EP the following year. Not For Me is five songs that show them following the same route of polished folk. Much in the vein of the folk music popular at that time of Mumford’s and Noah And his Whale. Nothing wrong with that at all but the expansion of the band gives it a much more fuller sound. The songs are catchy and forays into Americana and country sound brilliant while ‘Premier Rendez-Vous’ goes full country’n’western.
These two EP’s were recorded with four musicians and this grew to six in April, 2014 saw the release of their debut album Home At Last and they continued their trajectory incorporating fiddle, bass and mandolin into the band and a much more upbeat sound. The same feel good folkyness is there but with the fiddle giving it much more focus and steering the music away from the county folk of previous releases though sometimes teetering on bluegrass. Fifteen tracks all composed by the band members themselves including an update of ‘Ireland’ from that debut EP that kicks real celtic-punk arse!
So we now come to Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead and the transformation to celtic-punk is complete. The music is a mash-up of Franco-Irish styles with heaps of country influences seeping in. Patrick, the vocalist is half-Irish and his voice is similar to a lot of (maybe stereotyped?) French singers I have heard in that he sounds like he smokes sixty Gauloises a day! Gruff and growling and deep in both emotion and sound. His voice is perfect for what comes next with the band giving him the accompanying him with guitars, violin, mandolin, drums, percussion and bass.
(interview with the band in French but with loads of very good live clips of them performing songs from the album)
The album starts with ‘Morning Miss’ beginning with acoustic guitar and Patrick’s voice it soon envelopes the whole band and if one artist has been missing from this review so far then it’s time to bring out Tom Waits. Pat’s voice conveys much the same feeling. Slow and ponderous this is the sort of song I’m use to hearing at the end of album’s rather than kicking them off. The mandolin leads ‘Evening Prayer’ until the band kick life into the song with a real celtic-punk sound. As much as I liked them already The Crook & The Dylan’s evolution has seriously impressed me. They turn it on their head next with ‘Tales of Little Brat’ a real catchy country number with a great southern-rock guitar sound and Pat’s voice never better than on this track. We are back in celtic territory next with ‘Dance Johnny Dance’ a real infectious song that flits from acoustic folk to full on folk with ease. They slow it down with ‘A Pick of the Other Side’ and an image of a smoke filled bar fills my mind while again Patrick shows his range just isn’t restricted to more rocky numbers. All the songs here are very clearly sung in English making them very easy to understand. The bhoys really celt it up for ‘A Drink with the Devil’ and unsurprisingly the first single from the album is also the standout song on Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead.
The band sound great and the perfect production sees all the various instruments sitting nicely side by side. ‘Among The Waves’ and ‘Dear Mary’ see a return to the country-folk of old while the former speed through the latter is slow but loud and brilliant! ‘Sometimes In The Afternoon’ is the longest track here at just over five minutes and is slow and beautifully written again with Patrick’s voice soaring at the sam time as showing a delicate side. This is celtic-punk in a nutshell that your favourite songs on an album can be both the fastest and the slowest songs on it (and sometimes even in the same song!). After that epic it’s time to get busy and ‘How’s Your Mind?’ does just that slow before it explodes into some real catchy celtic-punk with a guitar solo that slots in nicely. The catchy as feck county tinged ‘Sick Of the Cold’ leads us into the fast and punk as feck ‘Finish Him’ about the weekend alcoholocaust that goes on around us. The Crook & The Dylan’s rock out, with my beloved harmonica too, before the album comes to an exhaustive end with the slow and exquisite ‘Black Torn Ballad’.
An album that flits from fast to slow from song to song but still manages to have that perfect pace is a real achievement. The songs flow into each other in a way that I don’t often hear and really made me sit up and listen. Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead is full of stories of lost love with emotion flowing all the way through it. On listening to this you get the feel that The Crook & The Dylan’s would be better experienced in the small intimate setting of a pub and I am sure they would agree but this album captures them perfectly and their Irish-French country/Americana sound is pretty unique and I must say is a breath of fresh air and after playing a good mood is guaranteed and what more could you ever ask from music?
Buy Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
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