July 27, 2010
Fort Wayne, Indiana’s The Staggerers have finally released their new full-length CD, Year of the Bastard, a huge, abrasive collection of shit-kicking hillbilly stomp with an energy that, although not for the weak, could wring a party out of rusty shed and old sawdust.
The Staggerers are comprised of fiddle, banjo, mandolin, drum, bass, guitar, and an occasional accordion, and led by a set of vocals akin to those on a chain-smoking muleskinner, barking out the lyrics like they are burning in his throat.
These elements come together on Year of the Bastard to form a sound that crashes forth with a punch from somewhere down theSkels/Dropkick Murphys end of the Celtic Folk-Punk spectrum, but completely devoid of sheen and polish.
Instead, the sixteen tracks within are about as smooth as week old, mason-jar moonshine, but possess a certain honesty and unfiltered, (uncensored?) purity in the sound, that, whether intentional or incidental, brings the music into a realm of “real” that is refreshing and a bit startling, kind of jumping into an icy stream first thing in the morning. That’s a wake-up call!
Scattered among the assortment of original tracks, (like my personal faves, “Pitbulls Don’t Play Banjo,” “Go to Hell,” and that great title track,) are a few “traditional” cover tunes, that, well, how do I put this? “Challenge description.”
Remember that children’s game “Telegraph?” Sure, you know, someone would say something to one person, who in turn would say it to another and so on, and so forth, and the final outcome was usually so twisted and different that it bore only a passing resemblance. Well, that is apparently how The Staggerers approached many of these songs. Year of the Bastard wrangles and stretches the skin of these traditional songs over the bones of the very distinct and brutish Staggerers sound, for finished product that is an entirely different animal! Nowhere is this more obvious than on the ubiquitous favorite, “The Wild Rover,” sounding here more like a threatening, bluesy, and bruised number, all shuffling and snarls.
That said, disc closer, Rosin the Bow, evokes a level of passion and emotion from The Staggerers sound that can usually only be found deep into the night, amid empty bottles and a haze of stale smoke. A surprising conclusion to a surprising release.
Year of the Bastard depends strongly on the listener’s immersion in the music, however, and does not agree with being relegated to background noise or sound bites. Bear this in mind if you decide to pick a 30-second sample from Amazon, CD Baby, or iTunes. It is really easy to get lost in the music, though, with a live energy sticking thickly on each and every chord, note, and lyric contained herein.
Highly recommended, but only for the stout of heart.
Review by Christopher P. Toler, THE Blathering Gommel