Brothers 3,
No Turning Back
(Earth & Space, 2001)

The opening acoustic and electric guitar riffs could signal the start of many a rock album on the shelves today. So I was a touch surprised when the fiddle launched into "Cooley's Reel." It's a grand start to No Turning Back, the new album from Brothers 3.

Brothers 3 is a seven-member Celtic rock band from Texas. Musicians are Mark Menikos (violin, electric violin, vocals, percussion), Tim Menikos (bass, vocals, harmonica), Tom Menikos (drums, vocals), Steve Jones (guitar, electric guitar, vocals), Martin McCall (percussion), Betsy Menikos (keyboards, percussion) and Wayne McKinzie (guitar, sax, wind synthesizer, vocals, percussion). I bet, if you read over that list again, you can figure out how they came up with the band's name.

The high energy of the first track ("Cooley's Reel" plus "Doctor Gilbert"; hence the track name "Cool Doctor") is replaced with a soothing ballad, "I Once Loved a Lass." Then it's a strathspey and reel set called "Strathspey & Reel," combining "The Highlander's Farewell to Ireland" (which sounds a lot to me like "The Cuckoo's Nest") and "Chuir Glun Air a Bhodach." Layers of percussion and bass spice up the fiddle lead nicely.

A moving, straightforward version of the song "The Minstrel Boy" leads into "Joy & Cairngorum," a set of pipe tunes given jazzy new life on the fiddle. The opening pibroch-style fiddle solo is gorgeously atmospheric, and I wish it had lasted longer. "The Diamond" is a whaling song (the band makes its anti-whaling sentiments clear in the liner notes) done here with low-key energy. Then there's "Two Gavottes," tunes from Brittany usually performed on the biniou (a variation on the bagpipe) and the bombarde, they are redone here with saxophone and fiddle laid over a jazzy romp. "The Swallowtail" is done the old-fashioned way, featuring fiddle and bodhran, possibly just to prove to listeners that Brothers 3 can do things the old-fashioned way at all.

"Henry Martin" is a song, appropriately enough, about three brothers who turn to piracy to make their fortune. Since most of the songs on this album are fairly mellow, the brief exchange of percussive cannonfire near the end livens things up nicely. "Chicago Reel" is a stately fiddle tune laid over aboriginal drums. "Sergeant Monaghan" mixes the a cappella "Recruiting Sergeant" with a jazzed-up "Monaghan's Jig." The melancholy "Both Sides the Tweed" gets a new sound with the addition of harmonica. "Rasta Reel" is a pair of Irish tunes done reggae style. "The Curragh of Killdare" is another sad, slow-paced song, and the album wraps up with "Sleep Suite," a "symphony" of Scottish dance tunes which surely won't cause anyone to nod off in the midst of the four fast- and slow-running tunes.

I wouldn't have minded hearing what Brothers 3 can do with a fast song or two, but the overall effect of No Turning Back is a good one. The band definitely has a handle on mixing traditional, rock and jazz styles, and I look forward to hearing more from this Texas septet!

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 8 September 2001

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