A second opinion on Finny McConnell’s solo debut from our Springfield, Mass scribe Brian Grady.
The Dark Streets of Love, is the strongest reminder that Finny McConnell is one of the best Celtic-rock minds of our time
Is this a love letter to all things Celtic rock, or rock and roll in general, maybe? Finny McConnell has penned some of my favorite songs in the genre, one of which is my wedding song (Little bit of Love). So watching him on social media building this album and working on it before and through the pandemic, I was excited to hear it when it came out. Having a mix of new and older music on it, the new versions of existing songs have such heart and soul. I’m in love with them in a completely different way.
Stars (Oscar Wilde) is one of those songs with a completely new arrangement and feel, you can hear a strong swell of emotion throughout this song, a vibe you get in most of this album, these are personal, almost breaking his heart to sing, it just about puts a tear in my eye to listen to them. You’re on a journey with Finny on this CD, one that may be slightly uncomfortable, but you’re going to love him even more deeply and appreciate this album the more you listen. Technically this has a garage band recording quality towards it, that feels intentional, and something I personally love. There are points you can hear him give notes to the band under his breathe in Atlantic City that clearly were meant to stay and add an atmosphere that your there in the room with him while they were recording, is this style for everyone? Maybe not, but I love it and think it adds so much more to this experience than just listening to some songs on a digital download. Also, there are points in some of the songs you can hear him well up with emotion, and my God that’s some artistry opening your heart to everyone like this, some people are great at singing on an album, but it takes a real artist to perform like this on a solo album. So the summary is its 11 tracks, some you’ll like, some you’ll love, and if you’re like me you’ll absolutely fall in love with Finny all over again. I found the album on Amazon, they are selling it on the label’s site too, and I’m sure it’s all over Spotify and Apple too. My suggestion is to get it, listen to it a bunch of times to get the fullest out of it, you’ll pick out your favorite songs, and probably keep them in a Playlist. If you’re not already following the Mahones or Finny on the socials, I suggest doing that as well, tell him I sent you.
Wild Colonial Bhoys are the long running Celtic-rock outfit from the frozen wastes of Minnesota. Remote Ruaille Buaille is the bands sixth (I think) full length studio album though, Remote Ruaille Buaille was recorded remotely as opposed to strictly in the studio given the pandemic situation – hence the title. Musically the WCBs are straight ahead Celtic-rock with an excellent command of both the traditional and rock sides of the equation. The album is a mix of originals and standard. Remote Ruaille Buaille is a very solid release and helps the band continue to build their reputation as the best Celtic-rock band in the midwest. My favorite tracks include the traditional, Homes of Donegal, Ewan MacCall and Luke Kelly’s, School Days Over, the originals, Tragedy At Duffy’s Cut (more on Duffy’s Cut here) and Aoife.
Nips’n’Nipple Erectors are of course Shane MacGowan’s pre-Pogues second wave UK punk band. I bought Bops, Babes, Booze & Bovver originally 20 plus years ago for a lot of money when I first discovered ebay. I’m not sure of the legality of the version I bought but now the album has been re-issued on Rough Trade (300 copies on yellow vinyl) so I assume all is in order here.
The Nipple Erectors (later shortened to The Nips, probably to make the name acceptable to the powers that be at BBC) were essentially a punk – rockabilly outfit with a great sense of pop melody that released two singles during their short existence. Side-A is the Nipple Erectors side, which kicks off with the glorious punk’n’roll King of the Bop, the rocking Nervous Wreck follows (the single B-side) and So Pissed off and Stravondale Rd., N5 from the same session but not then released close out that side. Side-B is The Nips side. Private Eye is Teddy Boy rock’n’Roll dragged screaming through 1977. Gabriella (produced by Paul Weller) is a pop-punk gem and the violent Vengeance (later covered by Dropkick Murphys) is a great slab (or stab) of early punk . An early insight into the genius of MacGowan.
Just when I thought we had lost Boston to the man bun wearing, latte drinking hipster types, out of the Dorchester section of Boston comes the Shadows of Boston to reclaim the streets. These guys are the meanest looking dudes this side of Scared for Life era Rose Tattoo . Shadows of Boston are a Celtic-punk supergroup made up of former members of Boston Punk bands Dropkick Murphys (with bagpipe legend Scruffy Wallace himself), Toxic Narcotic (Ben Upton who is a fine according player), The Blue Bloods and S.O.B.
Shadows of Boston first release is a four song demo that harkens back to the very early days of Dropkick Murphys and the Street Dogs – Boston street punk (though much more Celtic then the early DKM/SD – these guys have three pipers). This is a demo so the production is a little low-fi but the quality of the songs is there. I look forward to the first official release. The demo is up on the usual streaming services.
The Dark Streets Of Love is Mahones leader Finny McConnell’s first solo effort in his thirty plus years of taking Celtic-punk to the four corners of the earth. To most people, Finny is the Mahones, so why the solo project? While The Mahones have previously done an acoustic album, The Dark Streets Of Love, allows McConnell to step outside of The Mahones and the preconceived notions of what his songs should sound like and put a different (non-Mahones) touch on his music. I’ve said it before that McConnell is a very fine songwriter but often the sheer quality of the songs gets lost behind the force of nature that is The Mahones. Here, everything is stripped down to it’s raw essence. This is McConnell’s Nebraska – in fact a cover of Springsteen’s Atlantic City (from Nebraska) opens the album. Other influences are covered too, Shane MacGowans, A Pair of Brown Eyes and Pale Blue Eyes by Lou Reed. The real strength though is McConnell’s own material previously recorded with The Mahones such as the lament, So Far Away, and the sleazy lounge lizard, Cocktail Blues. The emotional tribute to his old mate, Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip in the cover of Fiddlers Green (for Gord) is stunningly good.
Gerard Smith’s day job is being the leader of Detroit Celtic rockers, Bill Grogan’s Goat. In his off time, he is a prog rock guitar monster. What we have here on Lullabies In An Ancient Tongue, Gerard’s latest solo effort is unashamed, 1970s style prog rock. So, apologies if my prog rock references are off as I’ve not really scratched below the source of the genre and would struggle to tell the difference between ELP and King Crimson. The guitars remind me of early Sabbath or even Soundgarden while the vibe at times is a folkie Led Zeppelin. Gerard, hasn’t forgotten his Celtic roots and weaves Celtic instrumentation into tracks like Standing Stones and The Storm. Lovers of Horslips will really enjoy Lullabies.
I came across Dan McCabe recently, on YouTube performing a stunning version of the old standard, Spancill Hill, recorded in his bedroom. That video took me down the YouTube rabbit hole and I discovered more and more videos he had put online as he waited out the pandemic lockdown in Ireland. The YouTube videos have led to Dan’s debut release, Songs for Ireland (The Lockdown Laments), a live acoustic album of mostly Irish traditional folk ballads and some more contemporary standards. The cover of Rainy Night in Soho is really great. While the album is fairly low budget (almost DIY), Dan McCabe has a powerful voice that seems to channel the sound and spirit of the late Dubliner, Luke Kelly.
While upstate NY based band, 1916, have been around a few years, I’m not overly familiar with them. Revolutions, is their fifth full-length release and the band actually started out way back in 2006 as a duo and expanded to full band by 2010. Musically, I hear fast punk’n’roll meets psychobilly overlaid with traditional Irish influences (tin whistle and mandolin) giving 1916 a strong sense of melody – I’d wager Social Distortion are an influence on top of the usual Celtic-punk suspects. There is a nice cover of the Irish ballad, Grace. In all, a very solid and original sounding release. I look forward to digging deeper into the 1916 back catalog.