Well, Moonshine Rebels are from Manchester, but they manage a pretty great Celtic tune. By the way, apparently Jenny had some chickens, which caught the glance of main Rebels Paul Sudlow and Sam McGrady (of Run Out The Guns fame), who composed and arranged traditional tunes for this record.
The first self-penned instrumental, ‘The Lady/McGrady’s Jig/The Long Hot Road’, is a wonderful ride on a mandolin, bodhran, fiddle and the nudge of an electric guitar that echoes the defiance of a really tough Scottish touch of The Battlefield Band or Five Hand Reel.
And that first tune throws a nice tuneful pebble into the waters of the mystical Irish River, Feabhal , which (pardon my digression!)) was named for Bran mac Febail, who according to folk legend, at this very river a long mythical time ago, heard beautiful music; then he consequently fell asleep, woke up, and found really nice silver branches with white blossoms. At this point, the story gets weird because he somehow meets a woman from The Otherworld, to whom he gives those silver branches (thank you, very much!), and she gives him some pretty good advice and directions about a trip he will take. Then (in the cause of brevity), in short time, Bran travels to a lot of places (including The Isle of Joy) and meets a lot of strange people (sort of like Odysseus). Well, Bran and his men eventually get to The Land of Women, where these women use a magic cord (sort of like Diana Prince–aka Wonder Woman– and her Lasso of Truth) to capture these sailors who have a sudden and inexplicable really bad case of the bashfulness. Go figure! But let’s just say a good time is had by all; that is, until a guy named Nechtan mac Collbran gets home sick and wants to head back to Ireland. They are warned not to leave, but of course they go anyway, and true to the prophecy, home sick Nechtan turns to ash when he steps on that Shamrock Shore. Obviously, our Bran, although never seen again, somehow managed to write his saga down for each and every one of us to enjoy.
Well, it’s not exactly The Tain, but all this Irish stuff is pretty cool. So yeah, that first toss into a mystical river ripples the rest of these Celtic-tinged tunes. Now, why two guys from Manchester would do this, is anyone’s guess—but I’m certainly glad they did. This is great folk-rock music, that never bothers with drunken sing-a-longs or punked-up bagpipers wearing kilts and thick black boots.
Ah – the traditional songs are old roots with new blossoms. The Rebels’ rendition of the Child ballad ‘Bonnie Banks Of Fordie’ is a dramatic, tragic, and very urgent, with Paul Sudlow’s vocals framed by Sam McGrady’s tough fiddle, while a mandolin picks with pathos. Ditto for ‘Hares On The Mountain’, which floats on soft vocals, mandolin, and a tin whistle. This song is a melodic reflection into a soft river. Truly, this echoes the stuff like Hedgehog Pie or Dando Shaft who played folk music which touched deep spring water. The rather charming tale of ‘Marrowbones’ is the most seaworthy tune and has swagger and a tenor banjo that sends a thank you note to The Clancy Brothers.
The original songs throw a nice ripple into Bran’s mystical river. ‘Varley Street’ dances with very modern folk steps. ‘Bonnie’s Cafe Bar’ gets country tough and almost sounds like a different band. But you know, just like Jenny had some chickens, this song is about all the people who knew Jenny, perhaps bought a few eggs, and danced with her at the local pub.
The other instrumental tunes differ in temperament. ‘Dogs At The Jug/Sam McGrady’s Polka/The Broken Fence’ is more ‘Dirty Linen’ that Fairport hung out on the British folk laundry line. The same is true for the original ‘Ryan’s Reel/The Shortest Day/The Moonshine Rebel’. But it’s ‘Fanny Power/ Captain O’ Kane’ that slows the grooves to quiet beauty. And ‘The Farewell’ is atmospheric with an electric guitar and whistle in a universe that still sings Celtic blues.
There is more, all of which burns the floorboards of any very ancient or very electric folk dancehall. ‘The 80 Shilling’ evokes more of a William Blake’s “green and pleasant” Morris dance vibe. And the final song, ‘Sam McGrady And Jenny’s Chickens’, echoes the more recent stuff from The Men They Couldn’t Hang.
These Moonshine Rebels catch the beauty of traditional music: It can sing with the words of mythical rivers filled with fanciful tales of heroes, magical transformations, and, tragically, not so ‘Bonnie Banks’. But it also wades in the common streams that flow past ‘Paddy’s Faded Denims’, ‘The Broken Fence’, and the ‘The Trim Rigged Dixie’ which are instrumentals all, tunes that play from a whole lot of glances at the common street stuff that sings, dances, and touches our everyday, and very Celtic musical soul.
Artists’ website: https://www.moonshinerebels.com/
‘Bonnie Banks Of Fordie’ – official video: