Barleyjuice,
Barleyjuice
(Ryf, 2001)

Barleyjuice begins this self-titled CD with a resounding blast of music, grabbing your attention as the band kicks up a lively, fun version of a very old, overdone song. I don't often go looking for recordings of "All for My Grog," which has been recorded and performed live ad infinitum by Celtic bands -- but I really enjoy this take. The rousing harmonica really adds extra flavor -- unexpected, but working surprisingly well.

Barleyjuice has the relaxed, very casual flair of a highly polished pub band. There are excellent production values here, too, so don't expect the rough edges of a live pub show. These guys sounds extremely comfortable with each other -- as well as their material.

A lot of the songs here are old favorites, including "Wild Rover," a tender "Fiddler's Green" and a lively "Marymack," not as fast as some renditions out there but nicely paced and accented with more harmonica.

Unlike some bands that have but overuse their excellent pipers, Barleyjuice makes sparing use of the instrument, making it much more exciting when they do. The first appearance comes on track 5, "Hi Drive,"a nice instrumental touch that never becomes tedious.

After a slow take on "Sally Garden," the band lives up to the image of fighting Irish on the fun "Mush Mush," the drinking Irish on "Juice of the Barley" and the hapless romantic on "Courtin' in the Kitchen." The latter song starts with an almost tuneless vocalization, so much so that I sometimes wince when this track begins -- but it falls neatly into place as the song develops and story unfolds.

There's a murderous marriage in "Tippin' It Up to Nancy," then a calm acceptance -- even a celebration -- of death in "Rosin the Bow." "Banjo Breakdown" is another tidy use of the bagpipes. The album then concludes with "Donnie Scot," a very mournful song featuring a solo voice and fiddle before building into an amazing bagpipe chorus, a totally unexpected and incredibly beautiful climax.

Barleyjuice is Kyf Brewer, Keith Swanson, Ian Parker and Griff Miller, described on the CD as "four Yanks dedicated to the preservation of the fine drinkin', fightin', courtin', dyin' and sailin' songs of Ireland and Scotland." This album lives up to that promise, and I hope the band comes out with a new album of similar material soon!

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 8 November 2003