Had a friend played Stephen Young & The Union's new album for me without telling me who they were, I would have sworn they were from Poughkeepsie or Syracuse or Los Angeles but damned if they aren't Irish. There was a time you could tell, you know? At one time Brits just could not play country and Americans could not nail down trad folk, but over the years those barriers have broken down. Young & The Union's Eagle Fort Rumble prove it. Irish? No way! And yet, yes, they are. Irish with the soul of what used to be American and is now evidently the world's. No complaint. Just fact. I mean, have you ever heard a band from Ireland play like this?
Didn't think so. Not that bands in Ireland couldn't. Just that I haven't heard any. Until now.
To say I'm impressed is an understatement. The last time I was blindsided like this was when I first heard The Barr Brothers' “Half Crazy” on radio and had to keep repeating “Barr Brothers. Barr Brothers.” until I got to the Music Millennium in Portland to see if they had the album. (They didn't. Two weeks later, though, when it was released, I swung by to pick it up. God, but I love record stores!) This time, the music came through the mail and if I hadn't been a huge supporter of the United States Postal Service before, I would be now. Because Eagle Fort Rumble is manna from music heaven. To my ears, anyway.
They are calling the music Americana and it doesn't bother me all that much except that I have yet to lock down exactly what is Americana. Alt.country? Folk with a twist? Rock with jazz undertones? Hell if I know. If it's this good, I don't really care, anyway. I'm in it for the music.
Eagle Fort Rumble is loaded with it and it didn't take long at all to get it. The fade-in intro to “Shiver” sucked me right in and the song did the rest, the shuffling beat on the chorus and the breaks on the verses causing involuntary head movements and light foot-tapping, not to mention the tasty guitar licks on the breaks, and that ending--- moving, at the very least. It slides into “Duty Free 200” like a beautiful woman into a hot bath, the song a look inward, and how can it not be when the line “... and your love is like a cigarette” drives nails into your heart.
A fade-in again, but this time into a flowing choogle with banjo undertone, one of the few times I have heard that instrument used in a proper musical context (it could as easily have been an acoustic guitar), “Lately I've Rescued a Rose” being one of those mid-tempo rockers which stand as a rock ballad as much as anything ending with a Jethro Tull-ish guitar-infused UK trad folk mashup of genres. Long break (meaning a few seconds). Then, a light country-folk beauty titled “The Blind Leading the Blind,” a song which reminds me of some of the UK bands of the early seventies which had that ability to slip a gem between rocking originals without you hardly even noticing. Nice guitar hooks. “Land Leg Blues” is as solo as it gets, Young taking an acoustic ride for one song before slipping into folk-rock territory again with the uplifting “Monsoon Season,” full of excellent vocal choruses and superb pedal steel and mandolin and fiddle and, come to think of it, everything else.
The real meat of the album for me is the bordering-on-demonic but oh-so-cool “Shadowman” (see video above), full of solid bedrock groove on which guitar rides high. They chose this one for the video for the US push and you can see and hear why. Outstanding stuff. Another short fade-in and “Beautiful Dead” pops up showing a pop side to the band, the song less intense but full of melodic sensitivity--- upbeat and bright. Then back to basics with the shuffling and downright infectious “Shuffle (In the Quicksand),” another true highlight in that it gets under your skin and has you dancing on the inside if not outright. Turn it up. This one rocks! “Teardrops” tones it down a bit (excellent use of guitar layering over the rhythm) and, like an encore to prepare the crowd for the end, the one true ballad, “Someone You Dream Of,” anticlimax, yes, but a very good anticlimax.
Eagle Fort Rumble is the kind of album I hope for but too seldom get these days. While I am surrounded by outstanding music, maybe one in a hundred of the albums which cross my desk I find inspiring. Colour me inspired.