While digging through iTunes one day, (I love how iTunes lets me sample every song before committing to a purchase,) avoiding work, linking from one “sounds like,” or “also purchased” to another, I found the six-song EP, “Losers and Boozers”, by The Vandon Arms.
The Vandon Arms is a four piece band from Des Moines, Iowa, comprised of a bass, guitar, drums, and a mandolin. That’s it. No fiddle, pipes, or even a decent whistle to be found. So at first I was dubious. Don’t get me wrong. I love the mandolin, I even own and occasionally torture the missus with one of several every now and again!
But was a single mando enough “folk” for a good folk-punk band? Maybe, but The Vandon Arms aren’t just a good folk-punk band, they are a great one! A minute into track one, and I was reminded that instruments do not make the band. I forgot my initial apprehensions and began really getting into these guys.
The thing I first noticed about TVA was how tight and professional they sounded. These guys came together as solid as any band at the height of their career, and possess a sound somewhere between Dropkick Murphys, The Tossers and Saint Bushmills Choir, with some of the best elements of each.
The EP opener was the traditional foot-stomper, “Muirsheen Durkin”. Executed with the appropriate enthusiasm, track 1 shows off the strength of the mandolin/electric guitar combo and the band’s great use of chorus.
“Losers and Boozers” is an introspective, if unrepentant, self analysis delivered with tempo changes swinging from a last-call, barfly lament to a rowdy, fist-pumping chant that must whip a live audience into a 12-step-dropouts’ frenzy. This one is probably my favorite track off this EP.
Track 3 is the ubiquitous “Whiskey in the Jar,” which sits precariously on the line between a respectfully traditional rendition and a high-speed, punked-out anthem. A very well done version that had me wondering how a voice so relaxed could sound so effortless moving along with a song sung so quickly.
The “Legend of Johnny Grey” relates a folk hero-style tale of rebelling against oppression and shows how TVA use the mandolin as a perfect bridge between the guitar and vocals.
“Brothers in Arms” is a Dropkicks-esque mug-swinger about camaraderie, I assume of the band members, starting with a glass-clinking sing-along that morphs into an upbeat, happy tune that somehow both sounds sincere and avoids sounding sappy.
Closing track “The Journey” is a drums-free, acoustic number that comes across as heartfelt and thoughtful but maintains a really nice pace.
Suffice to say, I was very happy to find this EP on iTunes. If this is a hint at some of the new blood in the Celtic Folk-Punk Genre, than the future is looking good.
Review: Christopher Toler, THE Blathering Gommel