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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.
www.ssrphotography.com

(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!!)

sisters-of-murphy-celtic-topBuy The Album

FromTheBand  cdBaby  Bandcamp iTunes

Contact The Band

WebSite  Facebook  Twitter  Instagram  Soundcloud  ReverbNation

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

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ALBUM REVIEW: ‘JOY OF LIVING: A TRIBUTE TO EWAN MacCOLL’ (2016)

Fearless and uncompromising Ewan MacColl’s influence is still felt far beyond the folk world. We owe him a lot… more than we can ever imagine.

Joy Of Living

Regular readers of the London Celtic Punks blog will all know how much we like Ewan MacColl and we have regularly featured him within these pages. Though long gone Ewan’s massive volume of work lives on and only the other day were we raving about the Irish-American celtic-punk band 1916 and their amazing version of another Ewan song (sadly not featured here) ‘Hot Asphalt’. Ewan’s songs were uplifting whether proclaiming love or war or peace. He wrote about things that would now be forgotten about and has kept their memory alive. He gave birth to a folk revival that continues to this day, many years after his passing, that remains in great health. The songs he wrote and championed are still being played and explored and adapted and still being made great. Ewan MacColl’s musical legacy is, to put it simply, just out of this world. We owe him a lot… more than we can ever imagine.

Ewan was the Scots-born son of a Gaelic-speaking mother and Lowland father from whom he inherited more than a hundred songs and ballads. He worked as a garage hand, builders’ labourer, journalist, radio scriptwriter, actor and dramatist. After the end of World War II Ewan wrote and broadcast extensively in Britain about folk music. He was general editor of the BBC folk-music series, ‘Ballads and Blues’, and frequently took part in radio and television shows for the BBC.

Ewan MacColl 1His folk song publications included ‘Personal Choice’, a pocket book edition of Scots folk songs and ballads, and ‘The Shuttle and the Cage’, the first published collection of British industrial folk songs. Eventually he was ousted from the BBC due to his socialist beliefs. He wrote many songs that have become folk (and celtic-punk standards) the most famous of course being ‘Dirty Old Town’ popularised by The Dubliners and then The Pogues. It is wrongly assumed to be about Dublin but it is in fact about his home town of Salford in Manchester. He is also famous for writing one of the greatest ever love songs ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ which he wrote for his second wife, the influential American folk singer, Peggy Seeger. He was also the father of Kirsty MacColl who of course guested on The Pogues enormous Christmas hit ‘Fairytale Of New York’. After many years of poor health Ewan died on 22 October 1989 but it can be safely said of him that his songs and influence will live on forever. Comparable only to Woody Guthrie in more than one way.

This fantastic double album marks 100 years since Ewan MacColl’s birth and the album has been produced by two of Ewan’s sons, Calum and Neill, and features a wonderful bunch of diverse artists from right across folk, rock, pop and celtic music. Disc one begins with, for me, one of the stand out tracks with Damien Dempsey singing ‘Schooldays Over’. The only song here we have heard before nevertheless it is more than welcome. Made famous by the late great Luke Kelly’s version with The Dubliners Damien is no stranger to Ewan’s work and does him truly proud.

This is followed by a track from one of the most influential figures in folk music today, Martin Carthy and is the first of several and several individual contributions by the Waterson-Carthy family. He performs the unlikely tale of a fish delivery man in ‘I’m Champion At Keeping ‘Em Rolling’. The Unthanks may sound like a rock band but are in fact two sisters (Unthank is their great surname) who perform a gentle lullaby ‘Cannily, Cannily’. Tracks from legends old and new follow from Seth Lakeman and Marry Waterson and Bombay Bicycle Club are up next, BBC famously include one of MacColl’s grandchildren, Jamie. They contribute a moving version of ‘The Young Birds’, a song written back in 1961 to commemorate a tragic plane crash that killed 34 London children of whom some were known to MacColl’s oldest son, Hamish. Another artist we are familiar with here is Dick Gaughan who contributes ‘Jamie Foyers’. Dick is an influential Scottish musician, singer, and songwriter who was a founding member of the famous celtic band Boys Of The Lough. Martin’s daughter Eliza Carthy, ‘Thirty-Foot Trailer’ and Chaim Tannenbaum, ‘My Old Man’, are up next before honorary Irishman Steve Earle presents a new take on a song that needs no introduction ‘Dirty Old Town’, except to say that it does sound like the spirit(s) of Shane MacGowan were present at its recording.

The first discs last song is from Jarvis Cocker and the erstwhile Pulp front man gives us a amazingly beautiful whispered version of  ‘The Battle Is Done With’. I am sure it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but its great to hear something that just isn’t a straight cover of Ewan’s work.

Ewan MacCollDisc two begins with the most famous of Ewan’s compositions and Paul Buchanan vocalist of 80/90’s Glasgow indie band The Blue Nile croons beautifully through the ‘First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’. Ewan wrote the song for Peggy Seeger and it became an international smash hit in 1972 sung by Roberta Flack. On hearing this version it made me wonder how Shane MacGowan would have mastered it. Paul Brady will be a name known to many and his version of ‘Freeborn Man’ shows Paul to have lost none of his talent in a career that spans right across modern day Irish folk music. Another travellers song follows and Norma Waterson provides us with a fauntless rendition of the gypsy’s plight in ‘The Moving On Song’. Karine Polwart’s version of ‘The Terror Time’ is again beautiful, and Martin Simpson, The Father’s Song, is up next before the ultimate Irish living folk legend, and former band mate of Paul Brady in Planxty, Christy Moore appears with ‘The Companeros’. Again yer man has lost nothing and its a stunning version. Now there’s one name missing from this album so far and he’s up next. It must be written into law that Billy Bragg must appear on any folk compilation and whatever you think of him he gives us a really nice but angry copy of ‘Kilroy Was Here’ which strips Billy back to those early days when he was at his best. Folk siblings Rufus and Martha Wainwright play the magnificent ‘Sweet Thames, Flow Softly’. A small gentle snapshot of life before Kathryn Williams, ‘Alone’, and David Gray brings the whole project to an end with one of Ewan’s best but sadly little known songs, and album title, The Joy of Living.

As you may expect traditionalists might not appreciate some of the versions here but this enhances, rather than detracts and all the various strands of Ewan’s political and musical life is represented here. This double album does not pretend to be the ‘be-all-and-end-all’ as with an artist with such a massive repertoire it would be impossible to please everyone but it does provide a gateway. Collections like this serve only one purpose. That is to steer listeners away from the modern day versions to the original source and with Ewan their is plenty to catch up on. We have included some links at the bottom where readers can find more information and free downloads so I hope you take the opportunity to. It is impossible to calculate the range and influence of this remarkable singer and song-writer but we can rest assured his memory lives and this album is a great testament to him.

“My function is not to reassure people. I want to make them uncomfortable. To send them out of the place arguing and talking”

Disc 1
1. Damien Dempsey – Schooldays Over
2. Martin Carthy – I’m Champion At Keeping ‘Em Rolling
3. The Unthanks – Cannily, Cannily
4. Seth Lakeman – The Shoals of Herring
5. Marry Waterson – The Exile Song
6. Bombay Bicycle Club – The Young Birds
7. Dick Gaughan – Jamie Foyers
8. Eliza Carthy – Thirty-Foot Trailer
9. Chaim Tannenbaum – My Old Man
10. Steve Earle – Dirty Old Town
11. Jarvis Cocker – The Battle Is Done With

Disc 2
1. Paul Buchanan – The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
2. Paul Brady – Freeborn Man
3. Norma Waterson  – Moving On Song
4. Karine Polwart – The Terror Time
5. Martin Simpson – The Father’s Song
6. Christy Moore – The Companeros
7. Billy Bragg – Kilroy Was Here
8. Rufus & Martha Wainwright – Sweet Thames, Flow Softly
9. Kathryn Williams – Alone
10. David Gray – The Joy of Living

Buy The Album

Here   CookingVinylRecords  Amazon

Official Ewan MacColl Sites

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For more on Ewan MacColl the internet is awash with sites but trust us and head straight to the official sites but also to Wikipedia as well as this tribute from the Working Class Movement Library here. You can listen to some of his music for free here on LastFm.

We have a regular series ‘Classic Album Reviews’ where we feature records from the past that have had influence far beyond their years. Ewan (of course!!), Leadbelly and several compilations have featured so far and all come with links to free downloads. You can check out the full series here.

(Just to prove Ewan’s work lives on here’s the aforementioned 1916 from New York with their recent  version of the classic Ewan song ‘Hot Asphalt’)

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