The Blarney Brothers,
A Fine Line Between Ambition & Delusion
(Psychedelic Shamrock, 1998)

Lager Than Life
(Psychedelic Shamrock, 2000)

There is a whole subgenre of Celtic music in which large bands with several members, usually predominantly male, sing very energetic pub songs that encourage active participation. The Blarney Brothers is one such band and, while there are plenty of these bands that do this sort of thing badly, these guys do it very well.

The talented six-man band is David Sparks (guitar, mandolin, bouzouki, pennywhistle, vocals), C. Michael Price (vocals, guitar), Randy Christian (vocals, congas, harmonica, pennywhistle), Rodger Harrison (bass, vocals, keyboards, guitar), Steve Harrison (guitar, didjeridu, vocals, bouzouki, bodhran, pennywhistle, hammered dulcimer, mandolin) and Matthew Williams (percussion, vocals).

The band offers very enthusiastic, sometimes aggressive versions of some familiar songs, as well as a few original pieces that stand up well in comparison. I'll admit, the name of "Blarney Boys," combined with a picture that suggests that the band got its start as renaissance faire entertainers, led me to expect something of a much lower quality. But the two CDs in their press pack are uniformly excellent, entertaining samples of their work.

The first album is A Fine Line Between Ambition & Delusion, and it serves up a collection of neatly delivered versions of some traditional songs you'd expect -- the roving "Rocky Road to Dublin," "Bonnie Ship the Diamond" and the irreverent "Paddy Murphy," as well as chestnuts like Archie Fisher's mystical "Witch of the West-mer-land," Brian McNeil's "Back of the North Wind," Tommy Makems "Rambles of Spring" and Andy M. Stewart's lovelorn "Queen of Argyll." Price and R. Harrison add their own work with the memorable "Ned's Chanty."

The varied song list on Lager Than Life, the band's second CD, ranges from the great traditional sea shanties "South Australia" and "Pay Me, You Owe Me" to James Keeleghan's "Fires of Calais," in which fishermen rescue English soldiers in France during World War II, to the blue-eyed soul-inflected "Waiting for My Ship," another Price original. The focus switches from the grim battlefield of "Gettysburg" (songwriter Curt Shannon joins them on guitar on this track) to the dance halls of Prince Edward Island in David Mallet's "Ballad of St. Anne's Reel."

The band draws twice on the Stan Rogers legacy, with "Barrett's Privateers" and "White Squall," and revisits Brian McNeil for "The Roving Dies Hard" and Tommy Makem for "Lowlands Low." Price's original song "Rainbow Dancer" seems a little out of place, but this love song is so lovely (and gives such a nice spotlight to Price's voice), it's easy to overlook that small quibble. S. Harrison also tries his hand at songwriting, collaborating with Chris Gipson on "Long Way Home" -- again, a nice song, but leaning rather far into the country music camp.

"Gypsies," a Tim Henderson song closing the second album, is wonderfully fun and puts a nice cap on the festivities.

The best way to put it is, the Blarney Brothers are very sing-alongable. Both albums have a lot to recommend them and you're guaranteed to enjoy the majority of these songs ... so grab a pint and raise your voice with these boys!

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 22 November 2003

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