Clatterbone, With A Twisted Grin (Clatterbone, 2001)

Once upon a time, there was a band called Rook, and they put out exactly one brilliantly enjoyable album before doing what so many bands do, splitting up and vanishing back into the ether. Little did we imagine that they weren’t dead yet, they were just taking a wee break to reinvent themselves, and come back stronger than before. Thus was born Clatterbone. The only holdovers from the Rook era are Shane Scot (guitars, banjo and vocals) and Tim McCarthy (bagpipes and whistles), who were also the original cofounders for Rook. Newcomers include Tara Hovel (bass and vocals) and Mark D. West (percussion and vocals). (As a note, while Shane, Scot and Tara are listed on the band’s Web site, Mark isn’t, which means he may have gone his own way after this album).

Ambitious and multi-talented? Yes. Their Web site claims they mix Celtic, rock, Gypsy, folk, metal, ska and swing. Shane Scot is also part of a “heavy world rock” group called Delirium Fix, a psycho-billy surf-Ska group named The Diablotones, and Trigger Happy Campers, which fuses rock and soul. Tara comes to the group from Texas by way of New Zealand, and is also a member of the Trigger Happy Campers. Tim is also a part of Delirium Fix. Between the three, they seem capable of playing any instrument necessary, and contributing any style desired. I have to admit, I was of mixed feelings regarding Clatterbone and their debut album, With A Twisted Grin. After all, I really loved Rook’s C’mon and if something ain’t broke, why mess with it, right? How could they improve upon their current state of ass kicking Celtic music? I’m pleased to say that Clatterbone has nothing to worry about. They still kick ass from all directions. The drums are loud, the bagpipes strong, and the vocals rip through the room like a buzz saw. The songs are a mixture of traditional and original, with the majority of the original compositions coming from Scot, and another from McCarthy, starting with a Celtic influence and taking a sharp right turn into Clatterboneland, a place where electric guitar tears down the walls alongside bagpipes, and the cries of cats echo in the background of another song. It’s a place where vocals come through saucy and arrogant, drunken, defiant, angelic, demonic, whimsical, and always having as much fun as possible.

For With A Twisted Grin, Clatterbone brought a few friends in, such as Suzanne Wolf (bagpipes and whistles), “Harmonica “Bob Miner (harmonica, of course), and the BBQ Choir (general merriment). Would that we all had such good friends. Clatterbone manages to dance its way along the spectrum of songs. There’s the fabulously traditional “Wild Rover,” the entirely rambunctious drinking song, “Whiskey Watered Down,” the sweeping and powerful ballad of “The Dreadnaught,” the rollicking and enjoyable “Gypsy Set,” and the entirely original “The Train.” Their songs embrace the unholy caterwauling of the bagpipes and turn them into welcome parts of a grander melody, making them about as cool as bagpipes ever are. (I admit that under normal circumstances, I find the only difference between bagpipes and fighting cats being bagpipes don’t need their litter box changed…)

How can I put this? I burned out on Celtic a long time ago. If you want me to like Celtic, you’d better doctor it to make it palatable. Like putting whiskey in medicine. Going by that theory, Clatterbone makes Celtic into a steak dinner. They’re Faster, Harder, Louder, Stronger. Utterly shameless, completely unrepentant, and stand back while they cut loose. For every mellow song like “Chubby’s Troubles,” there’s something like “The MacGregors” to bring the energy levels back up, or “Follow Me Up To Carlow” to rattle the walls with its strength. The only reason I can’t describe the songs in more detail is because sometimes, music just needs to be listened to. Clatterbone is Celtic on the edge, mixing rock and traditional in a wild, boisterous manner. They take the old, and give it a new spin, resulting in an album that I’m pleased to recommend. Check out With A Twisted Grin if you like whiskey in your coffee, or electric guitar with your bagpipes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>