Reviews

Top 10 Shows of the 2010 Rochester Jazz Festival

Jack Garner of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle put Blaggards in his top 10 shows of the 2010 Rochester Jazz Festival, right alongside names like Gladys Knight and Booker T & the MGs:

“I found the level of musicianship incredibly high, so it’s easy for me to come up with a list of top 10 shows of the 2010 Festival. They were:

Russell Malone (a set so sublime, I returned for the second set, which is something I almost never do, because of the many choices in music); Booker T & the MGs (which proved that the icons of youth don’t always disappoint in later life); uncommonly talented singer-saxophonist Grace Kelly; classy veteran singer Catherine Russell; Rochester native (and global vibraharpist star) Joe Locke, playing beautiful music now with singer Kenny Washington; those eccentric and talented Russians called Billy’s Band; Irish rockers The Blaggards; wonderful, old-school saxophone gents Scott Hamilton and Harry Allen; the hot Danish jazzers with a rock edge called Ibrahim Electric; and still-powerful soul music singer Gladys Knight.”

“Flogging Molly with six-shooters and a bottle”

“That was the polar opposite to The Blaggards, who wreaked havoc with their self-described “stout Irish rock” at Abilene at the end of the night. The Houston, Texas band were as much cowpunk — and metal, thanks to the kick-plate-covered, radical body Dean guitar, man I haven’t seen one of those in years — as it was Celtic. Flogging Molly with six shooters and a bottle. The Irish aspect, besides the fiddle and head-banging front man Patrick Devlin, was the endless calls for toasts and the hoisting, and the frequent downing of drinks. The crowd was lapping up the sauce and the band’s frenetic boogie, jumping up like a bunch of drunken 4-year-olds. Erin go nuts.”

REVIEW: LIVE IN TEXAS, BY BLAGGARDS

For newcomers to their hard-rock take on traditional Irish song, Blaggards have helpfully provided a keystone on Live in Texas with their version of “Whiskey in the Jar,” one of the most famous and widely-performed Irish folksongs of all time. Though the song’s plot, in which an Irish highwayman robs a British army officer at gunpoint and is subsequently betrayed by his lover, is constant, subtle changes in the song’s lyrics can give it a tone of defiance or petulance — as in the versions performed by the Dubliners and the Grateful Dead — or sorrow and regret — as in the hard-rock versions by Thin Lizzy and Metallica. Blaggards choose a different path, playing the song first in a gentle swing and then an aggressive doubletime. Just as bandleader Patrick Devlin is about to deliver the meaningful part of the story, he trails off, cackling, and the band leaps into a long, speedy fiddle solo, closing the song with a blues cadence.

Blaggards’ adventurous, irreverent interpretation of the song betrays a a preference for energy, variety, and relevance over strict adherence to tradition. Signs of these values pervade their music, from the casual midsong references to Houston and the Continental Club, where the album was recorded, to Devlin’s hilariously deranged assertion that the cargo of the Irish Rover- whose port of origin was apparently in Irish Guyana- included “seven million barrels of CRACK COCAINE.”

In departing from traditional interpretations of these songs, Blaggards aren’t simply drawing a cheap rise from the audience; they’re tailoring bar songs to the patrons of an actual modern bar. The band’s rowdy enthusiasm (“Waxie’s Dargle,” “Big Strong Man”) and keen sense of timing and musicianship (“Rocky Road to Dublin,” “Botany Bay”) bring out the natural affinity between Irish folk, with its approving position of alcohol-fueled misbehavior- shall we say, “shenanigans-” and punk rock. The resulting mix, as documented on Live in Texas, isn’t just an entertaining novelty. It’s a legitimate update of the folk tradition for a contemporary urban environment. 

Blaggards warm up for an Irish tour

Like St. Patrick’s Day itself, Blaggards’ “Stout Irish Rock” is a Hibernian-American tradition, folding Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and Ramones-style punk into a bottomless well of high-tempered Celtic tunes that go down smooth even without a pint of Guinness or shot of Jameson. The multiple Houston Press Music Award winners and longtime local club staples have a busy spring ahead, with a weeklong post-St. Paddy’s tour of front man Patrick Devlin’s native Ireland and two CD projects, one live and one all-original.

But first, they’re headlining the third annual Rory Miggins Irish Stew Cook-Off Saturday afternoon at the Continental Club; proceeds benefit Houston’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Although Devlin only met the late Local Charm owner and musicians’ benefactor Miggins a couple of times, “because of his love of all things Irish and whiskey, they put his name on the event,” he told Chatter as Blaggards navigated Galleria traffic on their way to a gig in College Station last week.

Chatter: How does one prepare a proper Irish stew?

Patrick Devlin: If you ask me, just meat and potatoes and just pour some beer in it or something. My mother made the best lamb stew — lamb, carrots, celery, onions, potatoes, potatoes, potatoes. It was unbelievable. Nothing touched it. You go into these poseur bars and you find the bread bowls with the stew in it and…no. Swing and a miss.

C: How excited is the band about your upcoming trip to Ireland?

PD: The boys haven’t slept. It’s our first time across the water with this, and this is my first time ever playing in a band at home. I’ve sat in with people a couple of times. This is something we’re going to try to do at least once a year — get a bunch of people to come on the tour with us, and they’ll go sightseeing and we’ll set up. [Note: Call Hammond Tours at 866-486-8772 to join the Blaggards.]

C: What’s your favorite drinking song to play?

PD: The one we get the best reaction to is “Whiskey in the Jar.” I think that’s just a brand name, a household thing to shout out. I want to say we have about five songs in “Whiskey in the Jar.” It goes in all directions when we play it. But as far as a cover song, that would be “Streams of Whiskey” by the Pogues. We do it about five times faster than they do it, and we do Kenny Rogers’s “The Gambler” at the end. That one’s a lot of fun.

C: Is there a better band to come out of Ireland than Thin Lizzy?

PD: In my opinion, no. No. U2 have definitely clawed their way to the top, but if you’re gonna tell me that Larry Mullen and Brian Downey are ever on the same page as far as drummers go, wrong. If you ever think Adam Clayton and Phil Lynott are in the same universe as far as bass players go, no. Bono’s got his own style and whatever, but [compared to] Phil Lynott…you know, no.

C: How will the Blaggards be spending St. Patrick’s Day this year?

PD: We are very, very, very happy to announce that we’re going to be at the Continental Club. Every year, we get lured out of town, and this year we were supposed to be in Jacksonville. Just like the rest of the country, they’ve kind of hit hard times and they downsized their festival, so we just decided to [stay], which makes so much sense now that we’re doing it. We’re gonna play for the home crowd, who never get to see us on Paddy’s Day because we’re on the other side of the earth. We’re thrilled.

“H-town’s heir to the emerald throne of Phil Lynott and Shane MacGowan”

H-town’s heir to the emerald throne of Phil Lynott and Shane MacGowan, the Blaggards have caused many a pint glass to be raised in celebration, and maybe a few tears to be shed remembering the old country as well. But it’s hard to get too sentimental when their souped-up guitars are going full blast, Turi Hoiseth is sawing away at her fiddle and drummer James “Earthquake” Edwards slaps out a double-time train beat that fits “Irish Rover” as well as “Folsom Prison Blues.” The greenest reggae band you’ve ever heard.

“Thoroughly irresistible, ass-kicking Irish rockers…”

Blaggards’ debut Standards (NFA) is aptly named yet downplays their wonderfully exuberant, irreverent approach to well-known tunes such as “Foggy Dew” and “Rocky Road to Dublin.” Thoroughly irresistible, the Houston quartet joins the ranks of kilt-wearing, ass-kicking Irish rockers willing to cross genres to get their point across, as on the fiddle-driven medley of “Folsom Prison Blues” and ever-moving “Fields of Athenry.” Ten tunes leave the listener dying for more, like a pint of Guinness that’s been shorted with too much foam.

“…makes Flogging Molly look like a bunch of nancy boys…”

Since we received this disc and played one track on our show the request lines exploded. “Standards” is as it says in the name, tracks like “Drunken Sailor”, “Botany Bay”, “Irish Rover”, however Blaggards have delivered them in a way that smacks you in the face and has you asking for more! This the one band that puts the ROCK in Celtic Rock! Although it’s hard to find a standout track on this excellent LP the most requested track would have to be the happily named “Prison Love Songs” which is an excellent mix of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and “The Fields of Athenry”. If you want a disc that makes Flogging Molly look like a bunch of nancy boys… then you want to check out Blaggards.

“…a tight hard-rock bar band at heart…”

When a band lists their main influences as Shane MacGowan, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and caffeine (and claim they sound like both Slayer and The Carpenters), you either have a great idea of what they’ll sound like, or none. With a lineup that includes drums, bass, guitar, fiddle and mandolin, these “stout Irish rockers” from Houston, TX, hew fairly closely to what’s expected of them as far as distortion pedaled jigs and reels, but they’re far more ambitious than that. An over-the-top, borderline metal cover of The King’s “Suspicious Minds” is one thing, but when said cover unexpectedly morphs into a faux rasta reggae stomp, it’s hard not to see these guys as a tight hard-rock bar band at heart whose members legitimately boast Celtic roots, but who also know a good hook when they see one. I don’t know what Presley and Cash have to do with Irish music, but the more obvious choices in their respective back catalogs are easy for half-soused crowds to bellow along to. Make no mistake, though: The Blaggards are good at what they do. I’m just not exactly sure why they’re doing it. Listen at: www.myspace.com/blaggards. Fri., 10 pm, Murphy’s Law Irish Pub.

Traditional Irish songs with a twist

Blaggard is a mutation of the word “blackguard,” which means scoundrel. The name hardly fits the four friendly people who named their band Blaggards, but it does fit the band’s unruly mission.

“We take traditional Irish songs and turn them into rock songs,” explains front man Patrick Devlin, who grew up in Dublin listening to Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath.

“I listened to rebel songs growing up,” he says. “The first time I heard real Irish music, there was bodhran, which is the hand-held drum, acoustic guitar, violin, a tin whistle and some old toothless guy singing, and I couldn’t understand a word of it.”

Blaggards sidesteps the whistles and toothlessness for music more like that made by Irish rock pioneers the Pogues. The sound has found an audience even in the suburbs, where bar bands have a tough time wooing crowds without knowing Top 40 radio hits.

“In Conroe, of all places, I would expect the audience to request country songs all night. Instead, we had people come up and request old Irish songs that I hadn’t heard the names of in years,” Devlin says.

Blaggards’ interpretations of traditional tunes like Irish Rover, Whiskey in the Jar and Rocky Road to Dublin are notable not just because the band plugs them into an electric socket, but because they turn them into rather complicated medleys of three or four songs.

Just listening to violin player Turi Hoiseth’s lively playing on Slapper’s Medley, which includes Dingle Regatta, Tell Me Ma, Tripping Up the Stairs and Battle of Brisbane, can make your arms feel tired.

And trying to Irish step-dance your way through four nonstop songs, which pub patrons often try to do, is a certain road to exhaustion.

“(Fans will) get up on stage, and I just tip my hat and say, ‘good luck,’ ” Devlin says. “And usually by the second song they’re ready to stop.”

Devlin’s musical journey began in 1997, when he started On the Dole, another Irish rock band. He was looking for the right sound (“upbeat, lively, in-your-face drinking music,” he says), and feels that he finally found it in July 2004 with the band as it stands today: Devlin on vocals and guitar, Chad Smalley on bass, Hoiseth on violin and Brian Vogel on drums.

“In On the Dole, we always had good players, but none of them were able to do what these guys can do. We went from being OK to being great, and it became effortless,” Devlin says.

Earlier this year, Blaggards released Standards, which includes the band’s 10 most popular songs. Drunken Sailor starts things off right, featuring Devlin’s feral, bar-brawl-ready voice, a driving rhythm that feels both punk and country, and Hoiseth’s fiddling, which smartly anchors the song in the traditions of Irish music.

Blaggards also throws some well-known covers — Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues shows up, as does Elvis’ Suspicious Minds — into its sets, done in the same style.

Devlin says the band has two albums worth of original material waiting to be developed, and he hopes to get the songs ready to record after St. Patrick’s Day 2006, when Blaggards is scheduled to perform in Philadelphia, Boston and New York.

“Touring has always been the goal,” he says. “I don’t see . . . any reason why we can’t tour the world, playing this music and getting people drunk.”

“…sheer AC/DC-like intensity…”

Local Irish rockers Blaggards are fresh off a national tour and a stint in Austin, which saw them as both the only Celtic-based band on SXSW’s official talent roster and as one of the stars of the capital’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Their formula is straightforward: Take trad Irish music, combine it with rock and ratchet up the pressure till the rivets start to pop. Dubliner Patrick Devlin and company more than make up for the simplicity of this idea with the sheer AC/DC-like intensity of their “stout Irish rock.”

“…great music spilling with Irish attitude…”

Covering songs can be a touchy art. Make the song sound the same as the original and the listener has to wonder who cares? Changing the song too much can squash the original’s intent. On Standards, Blaggards have found the perfect middle road and drunkenly …ehem… happily strolls down its merry way. If you’re looking for great music spilling with Irish attitude, look no further. Opening with “Drunken Sailor,” this version is as hard hitting as a fist full of knuckles. Showcasing sheer musical genius, The Blaggards melt together two completely different, and great, songs; Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and traditional Irish weeper “The Fields of Athenry,” giving birth to “Prison Love Songs.” You will not hear a better version of “  Rocky Road  to  Dublin  ” anywhere. Singer/guitarist, and  Dublin  born, Patrick Devlin has the perfect voice that captures the emotions of the song, especially the fighting part. While Turi Hoiseth’s violin reigns supreme in “Slapper’s Medley,” her playing is an anchor within the music throughout the disc. Hey is that a bit of reggae/ska I hear in “Suspicious Minds?” Although I’ve never seen the Blaggards in person, all pictures of Patrick Devlin and drummer Brian Vogel (hails from MA) lead me to believe that they’re whack jobs. Do I smell opening slots for Flogging Molly or Dropkick Murphys?

“…fueled by rock muscle.”

Although Blaggards are certainly game for a traditional Irish number, even their moments of unabashed nostalgia are fueled by rock muscle. “Stout Irish Rock” is not merely a slogan or clever pun, but a pretty damn literal interpretation of Blaggards’ sound. The fiddles fly, the rhythms are punched-up jigs and the guitars are as loud and insistent as those of any bar band anywhere. And who does bar bands better than the Irish? Blaggards meet their ultimate test next spring, when they tour the Emerald Isle.

“…fast, frenzied, fiddle-powered, and always-fun barroom rock…”

Finally, from the Irish garage-band tradition (surely there must be one?) comes the Texas quartet called Blaggards, whose STANDARDS is exactly that: fast, frenzied, fiddle-powered, and always-fun barroom rock versions of songs you’ve heard before. Most are the expected Irish-pub-band staples like “Foggy Dew” and “Rocky Road to Dublin,” but the surprise is the green-beer-soaked cover of the Elvis classic “Suspicious Minds,” which briefly diverges into reggae in the middle. It’s hysterical.