Irish Voice
December 20, 2000

by Mike Farragher

Best Of 2000

2000 was a banner year for Irish music. Artists as
diverse as Everlast, U2 and the Corrs dominated the
Billboard charts. Bands like the Prodigals and Black
47 ventured outside of the five boroughs to spread the
American Celtic sound to all corners of the world;
meanwhile, the likes of Neck, the Popes, and the
Sawdoctors imported their vibrant sounds across the
sea to American clubs.

    There were so many great CDs produced by Irish and
Irish American artists this year that it almost made
up for having to endure the sonic scourge known as
Westlife. Submitted for your approval is a list of
personal favorites that arrived in the mailbag. Any of
these great releases would make great stocking
stuffers for you last minute shoppers. Happy

   10. Phil Coulter's "Highland Cathedral": yeah,
yeah, I know. Given the other artists on this list,
Phil Coulter's New Age sound blends in like Richard
Simmons at an NRA cookout. That said, there's no
denying the fact that Coulter has easily made the best
record of his career. The ability to siphon the
talents of up and coming artists for his own purposes
is this man's forte, and he uses Highland Cathedral to
showcase the spine-tingling talents of Donegal native
Aoiffe. Her breathy, ethereal vocal adds a haunting
quality to Phil's pristine piano arrangements.
Bodrhans and bagpipes add marvelous textures to these
"lighter than air" melodies.

   9. Seanachai and the Unity Squad's "A Sunday at the
Turn of the Century": the Irish community scratched
their collective head when Black 47 founding member
Chris Byrne left the band last Spring. Thankfully,
this parting of the ways has left us with two great
bands to enjoy. Byrne took his band into the kitchen
of Rocky Sullivan's, where he plays every Firday, and
cooked up a street savvy Celtic stew. Turntable
scratches are right at home beside the pipes and tin
whistles on "A Sunday." Byrne blends his trademark
hard-hitting political raps with gentle history
lessons passed between father and son ("Let Me Tell
You Where You're From"). The sweet sounds of singer
Rachel Fitzgerald ("Fields of "Athenrye") would melt
the heart of the most hardened New Yorker.

   8. Black 47's "Trouble in the Land": fans of the
groundbreaking band Black 47 were treated to a CD that
ranks among the best in the band's formidable history.
Songs like the raucous "Bodrhans on the Brain" and the
smoky ganja island beats that propel "Desperate" won
the band some new fans around the world. These
additions to their set list were instantly embraced by
the legions of old fans as well. "It was a year of
great change," reflects lead singer Larry Kirwan.
"Chris Byrne left at the end of April. There was a
sadness, but change is inevitable. Joseph Mulvanerty
joined and has added a new dimension to the musicality
of the group." Kirwan gave the Irish Voice a peek at
the band's schedule for 2001. "My solo cd, Kilroy Was
Here, comes out on Feb. 27. I'm currently writing the
material for Black 47's next cd, which will be out in
January, 2002. We hope to make a trip to the UK for
gigs next summer, with a return tour of Argentina with
gigs in Chile also in the Fall of 2001."

   7. Rubyhorse's "Rubyhorse": This year saw the band
travel from their hometown of Cork to complete their
self-titled album in Nashville. A long road trip in
support of Culture Club followed, and the band caught
fire in amphitheaters across America. Their plan for
world domination is simple: tour, tour, and then tour
some more. The strategy is paying off. Their hard
driving sound thrilled audiences and they won fans
wherever they played. One of their famous fans, George
Harrison, added some beautiful slide guitar playing on
the hit single "Punchdrunk." As this paper went to
press, the Rubyhorse songs "Punchdrunk" and "Teenage
Distraction" were BOTH #1 in their respective charts
on, ahead of both The Offspring and The
Deftones. The band has just released Rubyhorse on
Horsetrade Records, and you can buy it by logging onto or by visiting your local Best Buy
store. If you're looking for Cork's answer to U2, be
sure to catch Rubyhorse when they tour the Northeast
in January. This is "the next big thing," folks.

   6. The Offspring of Shane McGown: the Popes,
Shane's crackerjack backing band, stepped away from
their joyously reckless leader to release the amazing
Holloway Boulevard this year. Swirling Mexican
mariachi into their whiskey-soaked barroom sound, the
Popes expanded on the foundations that Shane laid with
the Pogues. Another Shane alumni, guitarist Leeson
O'Keefe, released the fine EP CD Psycho Ceildh with
his band Neck!. The brakes have been removed from this
rocking machine, and the Celtic punk sound hits the
eardrum like a runaway train. Neck has done numerous
gigs along the Eastern corridor, occasionally sharing
the stage with the likes of Black 47. Don't miss them
during their next swing into your town.

   5. The Lancaster County Prison Band's "Death Waltz
2000": if Johnny Cash and the Ramones snorted
shamrocks before hitting a Dublin stage, they might
sound like The Lancaster County Prison band. A wildly
original blend of punk, dung-kicking country, and
bagpipes, the band were white-hot in backup slot on
this year's Shane McGowan tour.

   4. Kila's "Lemonade and Biscuits": tribal
percussion, tropical rain stick sounds, and esoteric
instrumentation blend with Kila's traditional Irish
sensibilities to produce a tasty sonic brunch. Would
you like some kiwi and guava juice with those rashers
and black pudding?

   3.U2's "All That You Can't Leave Behind": the boys
from Dublin peeled away the techno-barnacles from the
hull of their ship to uncover a sound brimming with a
sweet soul and a renewed purpose. The Edge's arena
rock bravado is front and center in songs like "Kite"
and "Walk On."

   2. Sinead O'Connor's "Faith and Courage": since she
ripped up the pope's picture, the Catholic church has
made buying Sinead O'Connor's records a cardinal sin.
Fortunately, the greatest female Irish singer of all
time has created a killer soundtrack to keep you
company during those hot days in Hell. The woman that
our race loves to hate roared back at her detractors
with a disc that is naked and raw in it's confessional
tone. Her public comments often have her contradicting
herself, and this dissent is evident in the disc's
grooves. She swears off men in the pop treat "No Man's
Woman" right before she paints her face and dons
"thigh high boots" to snag a man on the furious "Daddy
I'm Fine." She apologizes for her past sins against
humanity while lounging in her own "Healing Room."
Sinead employs hard driving rock, reggae, and folk to
tell the stories that make up this latest chapter of
her fascinating career. No self-respecting music fan
should be without this disc.

1. The Donegal X-Press' "Quinn's Diaries": "our music
is really, in all honesty, old music. It's the music
of Ireland and America. It's wide-open spaces and
stone crosses. It's East Coast harbors in the early
1900s, but it's also Kentucky Bourbon, a 70s baby blue
convertible Cadillac, cowboys and Indians, Coca-Cola
and twizzlers. We are still trying find how all of
that fits together."    That's how guitarist Brad
Dunnels describes the sound of his band, the Donegal
X-Press. Does he really believe this trite diatribe,
or is he just pulling our collective leg here? You
never know, and this tongue-in-cheek tone of the
lyrics within the notes of Quinn's Diaries always
keeps you guessing. After slogging through the bags of
CDs that arrived at the Irish Voice offices this year,
I can confidently say that no one is producing music
that's more exciting or original than this
Baltimore-based band.    This outfit changes musical
styles like socks on Quinn's Diaries. I haven't heard
a band mix punk, rock, and jazz this well since the
Replacements called it quits. Biting beatnik poetry
wafts over a furious bodrhan beat on "12 Round
Knockout." The traditional nugget "Tell Me Ma" is
reworked in the hands of the group; the old melody is
sped up to warp speed and it helps tell the story
about chasing underage girls on Bainbridge Avenue.
"Irish is as Irish does/I like my peaches without
fuzz." Indeed. The X-Press run the gamut of great
drunken singsongs ("Pissed Off Paddy Barman," "Raise
Your Glasses") and political commentary ("Omagh") in
their repertoire. They call the Baltimore bar Mick
O'Shea's their home, and they use the watering hole to
test the boundaries of Irish music on their rabid fan
base. They sometimes splinter off to form side
projects that add a creative fuel to the goup's
engine.    Dunnells and vocalist Jason Tinney combine
spoken word poetry, Irish ballads and original
compositions in the genre of the "sheanachai," or
story teller. On any given night, the Wayfarers will
treat the audience to a grab bag of Irish, rock, folk,
blues or Jazz in a laid-back atmosphere. Lyle Hein
(bass player) has formed his own band, ominously known
as the Sheepshaggers. With a name like that I GOTTA
hear what this sounds like. What does that say about
me?    The Donegal Xpress has an exciting 2001
planned. Brad and Lyle recently went into the studio
with local hip-hop producer Hugh Harrell to lay down
some possible tracks for the next Donegal X-Press
album. Once some ideas are sifted through, the entire
band will begin recording in January.

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