We had this review come in today via our US publicist, the great man Mike Farley. We always appreciate when a reviewer takes his/her time to run the album down track by track, and it's always even better when the reviewer gives ya 4 stars!
Many thanks to Eric Thom and Blurt Magazine for this!
Album: Eagle Fort Rumble
Artist: Stephen Young & the Union
The Upshot: Sophomore release by Irish band unduly anointed with ‘Americana’ tag for the simple reason that they sometimes sound more American than Americans do – and because their catch-all bag of influences can’t comfortably be pigeonholed any other way. Suffice it to say, feast upon 11 songs that go a long way to redefining fresh places where good music might go.
BY ERIC THOM
It’s no secret that some of the best Americana often comes from everywhere but America, yet, upon closer inspection, the “Americana” tag peppered through the accompanying press release may be less than apt – if not entirely inaccurate. First off, Stephen Young’s voice sounds awkwardly high. It’s a jarring realization that takes about 11 seconds to get over before you’re completely seduced by his abilities as a singer and by the talent of the band he’s surrounded himself with. From the band’s “Union” reference in its name to the music itself, Eagle Fort Rumble occasionally sounds like it could have been birthed in the southern U.S., leaning heavily on rock influences, yet glistening with tasteful arrangements that pad each significant hook with additional layers of sound and interest to hold one’s attention. Just as you feel you’re starting to get it, they introduce a fresh instrument into the mix – mandolin, banjo, synthesizer, B3 – resulting in an altered mood that opens yet another door, revealing an even wider expanse of influences which sound anything but Irish-based – all the more to their credit.
If this is Americana, it didn’t come easily. Remember that Ireland is ripe with bands that took rock by its ears and refashioned it with elements of Irish folk, American gospel and that other-worldly spiritual hit of Irish soul. Think Mike Scott’s Waterboys, Kurt Wallinger’s offshoot World Party, or even Hothouse Flowers and The Fat Lady Sings,with their hints of pop and dance.
The elongated intro to “Shiver” sets you up for Lord-knows-what. Its strums of acoustic guitar, piano and Redbone-era tom-toms could herald a new “wind in the hair/faux Western” single from Jon Bon Jovi. Yet this questionable vision is quickly shattered as Young opens his mouth to let loose with a vocal that is instantly endearing as the band fills in around him with a tough sound, working a relatively simple track into a minor opus.
Layers of instrumentation, changing time tempos and some feral (uncredited) guitar yield a rich tapestry of shapes and sounds. The comparatively delicate “Duty Free 200” conjures a Japanese tea bar – a sleepy façade leaning on mandolin, strummed acoustic guitars, B3 and synth, as it all collides into an addictive formula whose ingredients constantly change. Their only awkward step is also an album highlight: “Lately, I’ve Rescued A Rose” offers a provocative intro of electric and acoustic guitars, electric piano, synth, B3 and drums while banjo enters to create their hook – an off-handed, likely unintentional aping of the “to be a rock and not to roll” segment of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”. As the song builds, Young volunteers his strongest, most evocative vocal, the banjo and synth building to form an epic backdrop. As the song switches time signatures, a muscular guitar amps up while a bewitching fiddle (uncredited) enters the mix with B3 to form a larger-than-life, repetitive dreamscape to close out with. Might be the best 6 minutes you spend this week. Young’s multi-tracked vocal on the deceptively simple “The Blind Leading The Blind” is another banjo-and-droning-guitar, up-tempo piece that uses twin electric guitars to make its point, as the simple melody sallies forth at a lovely pace.
As if variety is their forte, “Land Leg Blues” could be Soft Boys-era Robyn Hitchcock – another short hit that’s equal parts sea shanty and folk, leaning on fiddle as a chorus builds to a surprisingly gentle climax. The tougher “Monsoon Season” is another upbeat stand-out with its blend of powerful piano, electric/acoustic guitar and convincing use of a background chorus, adding strength to Young’s vocal. Teeming with adventure, another about-to-be classic is “Shadowman”. This foreboding entry is ripe with electric piano, electric guitar and synth effects, sounding more like a Peckinpah WesterSYTUn than the Zombies-flavored focus lent by their uniquely-rendered video, reflected below. The palate-cleansing “Beautiful Dead” is uplifting with its dominant piano and squeezebox-flavored melody, showcasing Young’s gentler side. A buoyant, quite beautiful track with just the right hint of electric guitar, it’s the soundtrack to a sunset stroll along Curracloe Beach.
“Shuffle (In the Quicksand)” fires off a fast-moving, western-edged guitar riff to set up a hard-working song revealing considerable muscle in the band, built around Young (vocals, guitar, harmonica, piano), John Sweeney (lead guitar, harmonica, piano), Declan Moran (lead guitar, backing vocals), Padraic Lane (mandolin, guitar, backing vocals), John Byrne (drums, piano) and Andy Moran (bass). The considerably more introspective “Teardrops (On the Sidewalk)” projects a U2-esque wash of guitar chords forming a backdrop while bass, drums and Young’s somewhat disjointed vocal paints a moody sidebar rather than a full song. The dream sequence called “Someone You Dream Of” ends the disc, unleashes yet another side of Young. Reclusive, as if from another world, there’s clearly a ghost in this machine. Piano-driven with synth, strings and echo effects, it’s – nonetheless – an infectious little detour to close the record out. A significant release, it cannot be recommended more highly to the adventurous listener.
DOWNLOAD: “Shadowman,” “Duty Free 200”
SYTU note* Shiver's 'feral' guitar was played by Mr Larry Hogan
Lately I've Rescued a Rose's 'bewitching' fiddle was played by Ms Sharon Hussey.... and a fine job they did too!