The great country of Ireland can’t seem to stop pumping out stellar music this year. In 2014 we’ve watched the rise of Irish rock band Kodaline and relished the debut album of meteoric singer-songwriter Hozier, also from Ireland. Before the year is out, fans of bands Mumford and Sons or the Avett Brothers will most definitely want to check out Ireland’s Rackhouse Pilfer and their new “Love and Havoc” album.
The 12 distinct tracks by this high-energy Irish-Americana band are sometimes reflective, sometimes nostalgic, but often humorous and always engaging. Look especially for their reflective “Fallen Leaves” and its gentle, perfectly placed banjo, guitar and mandolin touches.
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Their ferocious rendition of the traditional “Shady Grove” — it’s been performed by dozens of bluegrass artists including Doc Watson, JJ Cale and Ricky Skaggs – keeps blood pumping and feet tapping. And the clever hilarity of “Another Dirty Joke” elicits a chuckle every time.
Oh, I never will tire of your knowledgable mind / Your dream that someday we can travel through time / So where will we go, in this miracle machine / Will we take it for leisure, or stop some regime? / We could take it to the future where there’s no man to be seen, start the whole thing over, I’m Adam, you’re Eve / So pour me another Jack and coke, light up another whacky smoke / I’ll lay by your hips, getting drunker by the sip, summoning the courage to lick your lips / And would you tell me another dirty joke?”
Search also for “A Sailing Song,” an album high point that boasts artistic sensitivity and spins a melodic, mournful yarn with a nautical theme you’re sure to love.
About Rackhouse Pilfer
From northwest Ireland, Rackhouse Pilfer are: Leon Mooney, acoustic guitar, harmonica and vocals; Willie Kelly – acoustic guitar, drums and vocals; Fiachra Cunningham, fiddle, dobro, and vocals; Mark McGovern, tenor/5 string banjo and vocals; Leslie Jones, mandolin and vocals, and Hugh Feely, double bass and vocals. Jones and Mooney originally formed the nucleus of the band and other members came aboard fairly quickly — “quite naturally, actually,” according to Jones, who provides mandolin and vocals.
Musical influences span the genres and generations. “Collectively we’d be a fan of a lot of singer songwriters such as Neil Young, Ryan Adams, Bruce Springsteen, Gillian Welch and Steve Earle,” says banjo player and vocalist Mark McGovern. “Then there would be bluegrass artists old and new,” adds McGovern, citing Flatt and Scruggs, Country Gentlemen, Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Stanley Brothers and Chris Thile. “Then, add most of the classic rock you can imagine,” he concludes, “along with Johnny Cash, Gram Parsons and Sturgil Simpson…and you’ll get most of what influences us.” Well alrighty then!
The band spent most of last year “writing the album and demo-ing,” says guitarist and vocalist Willie Kelley. “This was quite an exhausting exercise, really. We gig a lot as a band, because we feel it’s important to build a fan base from grass roots up, and our fans are loyal because we come to them; so in between 4, 5 or 6 gigs a week we were trying to make time to write and demo, very intense stuff really, but we work well under pressure,” he adds. Evidently their devotion to live shows paid off as they were recently awarded “Live Band of the Year” by Ireland’s #1 music magazine, Hot Press.
Although based in Sligo, Ireland, the band flew to Nashville to record “Love and Havoc” in a studio with music producer Brad Jones.
Says Kelley, “We got the whole album recorded, mixed and mastered in 2 weeks, which is a bit mental really, but I think it lends itself well to capturing our energy anyway, which I believe is there on the album!” Band members even slept in the studio, recording 10 hours daily but managing “to get out into Nashville city most nights to see bands and have a few beers after a long day’s work.”
“Nashville is very inspiring as a musician,” adds Kelley, “when you see the quality and competition for places out there, it really makes you up your game. ”
By far, Love and Havoc’s most popular track is the powerhouse “Bright Lights” which is currently playlisted on Ireland’s national radio. “Bright Lights was inspired by the general theme of immigration,” says musician Mark McGovern. “It touches on the whole idea going to faraway lands with the hope of one day returning to see your family, and also how immigration leads to being a stranger settling into an unfamiliar place.”
For such serious subject matter the song’s a jubilant tour de force. Have a listen:
Rackhouse Pilfer: Bright Lights
Rackhouse Pilfer played a boatload of music festivals this year, even headlining a show in La Rouche, France. “We have been touring non-stop since the release of Love & Havoc last March,” says musician Mooney. “The (highlights) that stick out from a personal point of view would be both of the sold-out nights in our hometown for the album launch. They were absolutely magic in every sense, the build-up and hype had reached boiling point…so the shows were very intense and full of joy.”
“2014 has just been non-stop with the band, and also a few of us have had our first children,” adds Kelley. “Leon has some kids already, so it’s just been a crazy year trying to juggle personal lives with a band that’s doing well, but we’re definitely starting to see the hard work pay off.”
What’s ahead for Rackhouse Pilfer?
What’s next? “We just had a meeting last week and have set up a schedule for the coming months to make time to get together and start writing, because we really hope to make a new album in 2015,” says Kelley. “So that’s exciting (and) hopefully that will make the next one even better, which is always the goal!”
“2015 should be very exciting for us,” says Mooney, “we have so many plans in the pipeline; we have a European tour & an American tour getting the final touches so we are very much looking forward to those. I have a feeling the next record will be a lot different to the last…watch this space!”
Any chance of a show in Portland in the New Year? “We’d love to come to Portland,” says Kelley, “hopefully that will happen someday!”
The album closer, a ballad called “I’ll Find a Way,” includes harmonica sections that you’d swear are Springsteen, pulling us in with storytelling, sincere vocals, touching fiddle and more fine musical style.
To sum up
Rackhouse Pilfer’s adept musicianship, great energy and fine layering of vocal harmonies on the choruses make us wish we could watch them perform live…enjoy a pint of dark ale while soaking up the vibes of a good pub, and show them a little love. Barring a trip to Ireland, we best content ourselves with the new CD.
Rackhouse Pilfer “Love and Havoc” is available on their website or on iTunes.