The Brobdingnagian Bards,
Marked by Great Size
(Mage, 1999)

It's a strange little album. That's probably why I like it.

The Brobdingnagian Bards are Marc Gunn on autoharp and vocals, and Andrew McKee on recorder, mandolin and vocals. Their debut album, Marked by Great Size, sounds a little unpolished, almost amateurish -- almost as if the boys walked into a room, set up and played. But ... well, hell, it WORKS that way.

The Austin, Texas bandmates cut their teeth at faires, coffeehouses and computer repair sites, and the recording retains that certain feeling of impromptu entertainment. But believe me, you will be entertained by these guys as they zip through 16 tracks of Celtic and Renaissance style music.

One reviewer, Margaret Moser of the Austin Chronicle, referred to them as "a kind of Renaissance version of They Might Be Giants." I hate to lift her words like that, but it's a perfect description. (Nice phrasing, Margaret!) Since the band takes its name from the race of giants in Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Gunn and McKee might have had that very thought in mind, too.

The instruments are an odd mix, but they sound surprisingly good together. And both voices have the flair of people who never took a voice lesson in their lives, but just sing loudly and lustily for the sheer joy of singing. Listen to the album a few times and I wager you'll be singing with them, too.

The tunes are a mix of old and new, traditional and original. For instance, the album begins with "None But a Harper" -- the words are lifted from the final page of Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn; the music is their own. They do Tom Lehrer's "Irish Ballad," which explains in great detail a woman's serial slaughter of her family. There are traditionals: "A Begging I Will Go," which offers a bit of career advice, and a bouncy version of the traditional favorite "Gypsy Rover." And there's a deucedly clever parody of the Barenaked Ladies song "If I Had a Million Dollars"; "If I Had a Million Ducats" is wicked funny, even if the lads' accents are just a bit off.

They have a fondness for dragons, too. The album includes "Do Virgins Taste Better" and "The Dragon's Retort," both of which address the same basic question and both of which are based on the melody of "Irish Washerwoman." Gunn, with Nancy Pearsall, wrote "Happily Ever After," about a dragon and a princess who needs no knights.

The lads have written several of their own songs. "O'er the Way" is Gunn's song of theft and violence and love lost sung with all the dramatic subtlety of, say, a William Shatner. More fun is his "Liquid Sunshine," which manages to sound a bit honkytonky. McKee wrote the music for "A Prudent Thief"; the comical words by Cindy Vanous tell the danger of drunken robbery. And McKee wrote the words (they combined forces on the music) for the zesty "Satisfied."

There are also a few instrumentals: "Bella's Highland Jig," an oft-frantic Gunn original; the gorgeous "Lady Faery" by David English; a punchy "Swift Dining," another Gunn/McKee composition; and "Pachelbel's Canon in F," a nicely done variant on the usually D-major baroque favorite.

All in all, it's a good album, well worth tracking down.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

Visit the band's Web site