Bill Grogan's Goat,
Bill Grogan's Goat
(Sounds of Seamus, 2007)

When the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem invented a style of Irish-music presentation in the 1950s, they built a bridge between the nation's rural singing traditions and the world's popular culture. Known variously as "pub singers" and "ballad groups," CB&TM and those who followed them -- most famously, the Dubliners -- provided elemental instrumental backing plus a repertoire of songs to which bar, club and concert-hall audiences could easily sing along, with hooky choruses, driving arrangements and appealing if uncomplicated harmonies.

From the 1970s onwards, popular Irish folk music evolved into the Celtic-music movement, which fused the pub style's emphasis on songs and vocals to the often intricate instrumental styles rooted in the countryside.

Irish pub music never has died out, though for a time it was disdained (not entirely fairly) as hopelessly square. In the 1980s the Pogues used it as the basis for a wild, rhythmic folk-punk-rock, which took the likes of "The Irish Rover" to startlingly unexpected places, yet without ever really betraying their fundamental character. Since then, a Pogues-flavored Celtic rock movement has planted its flag on the far margins of the rock and folk scenes. Thus, the Detroit-based Bill Grogan's Goat, which consists of five players with experience of playing just about every style of music in their native city.

The original "Bill Grogan's Goat" was a comic American folk song, not to be found on this disc, which opens with the standard "Wild Rover." It's done at rousing pub tempo, not as the gloomy, angry slow ballad -- the doubtless more "authentic" one -- that some Anglo-Celtic singers prefer. This "Wild Rover," awash in crunchy chords and feedback, gives one the impression of a harder sound than in fact the listener encounters thereafter. What one hears is undeniably guitar rock (with some Irish instruments buried in the mix) as performed by experienced practitioners, but those gorgeous melodies remain splendidly attired even if the garb is nontraditional. One does not get the impression that the guys of BGG are slumming or putting out some novelty exercise; they love the music, and they clearly have a feeling for it.

If the 13 cuts are overwhelmingly familiar ones, they're nonetheless welcome in these ears. "Black Velvet Band," "Star of the Country Down," "Whiskey in the Jar" and their like can be done badly, but even delivered with minimal competence, their lyrics and melodies are so rich that they ordinarily stand on their own. BGG delivers them with rather more than merely passable skill. I am particularly drawn to the few songs not heretofore known to me (e.g., Dominic Behan's "Come Out, Ye Black & Tans"), but everything here is pretty much guaranteed to provide satisfaction. BGB manages a nice balance of the tried-and-true and the new, and in the process attests to the enduring charm of a body of songs that only the most cynical would dismiss as chestnuts.

by Jerome Clark
14 March 2009

Hang on to your hats as this CD starts spinning. And do not expect a traditional rendition of "The Wild Rover," as this guy is roving on speed.

The band Bill Grogan's Goat shows its love of the genre and professionalism as matters settle down a bit for some more sauntering on "As I Roved Out."

I was intrigued by the intro on the wonderful "Three Drunken Maidens," that old English folk song stolen centuries ago and sold as Irish. The lads do not disappoint in the rest of the delivery and give us a lovely song.

Poor auld Percy French would never recognise his "Little Brigid Flynn" in her new folk-rock finery, but a new generation does get a chance to discover him as a writer with this band as interpreters. Few of the Riverdance crew would even attempt to dance to "Horn Pipeline" when the "Boys of Blue Hill" take off at breakneck speed. I can see this as a concert track having people dancing in the aisles.

Listening to this album the first time is a voyage of discovery and maybe a bit of apprehension. We look at that lovely old track listing and then wait for the first few bars to find out how the Goat will deliver it. "The Black Velvet Band" sticks fairly much to its usual arrangement and is a joy.

The Black & Tans would never come out if presented by the wall of sound that this band gives to Dominic Behan's stirring song. "Star of the County Down" has been around for ages. Every young lad in Ireland learned -- and often hated -- it as part of singing classes with the Christian Brothers. Then Van Morrison made it cool. This version is equally good and may redeem it again in those once-young singers' minds. "Whiskey in the Jar" is well shaken before they relax -- a little -- for "The Banks of the Roses."

This is not an album for your purist uncle or granny, but if you know a young person who thinks Irish music is boring, here is the antidote.

by Nicky Rossiter
25 February 2012