Monday, February 1, 2010

Boiled In Lead - My Son John (From the Ladle to the Grave,1989)

Arbiters of a style that's been variously called celtopunk and rock & reel, Boiled in Lead originally consisted of Drew Miller (bass), Jane Dauphin (guitar, vocals), fiddler Brian Fox, and a drum machine known as Amos Box. This lineup played a handful of gigs around the Minneapolis area. As of St. Patrick's Day 1983, the band had expanded to include drummer Mitch Griffin and fiddler David Stenshoel. This lineup recorded the 1985 bOiLeD iN lEaD, an energetic self-produced, self-released LP that hit the Celtic folk market like a rocket. BiL might well have played traditional music as part of their repertoire, but the format and delivery was anything but traditional.Second guitarist Todd Menton joined the band in 1985 after an encounter with Miller at an Irish session led him to sit in with the band for a few gigs. It also led to a change of instrument for Menton, who had been playing saxophone up to that point. The expanded lineup set to recording their second album, Hotheads, in the summer of 1986, but by the time the album was released in early 1987, both Griffin and Dauphin had left the band. Hotheads received a Minnesota Music Award for Best Celtic/Bluegrass/Folk Album of the Year. Old Lead compiles both albums onto a single CD. Griffin was replaced by drummer Robin "Adnan" Anders, whose style took in everything from straight-ahead rock to complex Middle Eastern structures that helped influence the direction of the band. BiL spent much of 1987 touring, heading into the studio at the end of the year to record From the Ladle to the Grave, which moved away from the loud Celtic approach to add Eastern European, Russian and even African material to the band's repertoire. Cooking Vinyl then signed BiL for European distribution. The album was released in April 1989, and proceeded to win another Minnesota Music Award, this time for Album/CD of the Year.
The group's first album with Anders on drums proved to be the catalyst for turning what was already a strong, multifaceted group into a flat-out amazing one. Bringing not merely good skills but an encyclopedic knowledge of many world music traditions to the group, he helps fire the quartet up on a series of brilliant performances. The opening track "The Pinch of Snuff" might initially have raised warning signals, with a steady hard rock punch seemingly the furthest thing from BiL's folk roots. However, the electric mandolin soon changes that impression, and by the time everything speeds up, tin whistle and fiddle played like the devil, it's clear BiL are in full effect and out to slay the house once again. Menton's lightly but not stereotypically Celtic-inflected vocals add to the show, but Ladle's many instrumental performances do the business just fine. Perhaps the most striking thing about BiL is how its many fusions never feel forced, a quality shown in spades throughout the album. Combinations range from "Cuz Mapfumo," at once a tribute to East African musician Thomas Mapfumo and Celtic-American performer Cuz Teahen, to "Stop! Stop! Stop!," a giddily entertaining romp through the old Hollies hit mixed with a traditional Egyptian song. Perhaps appropriately, the band weaves its political and social commentary roots as skillfully into its songs as its musical inspirations, never sounding preachy at the expense of entertainment. "My Son John" makes for a fierce ending, dedicated to an anti-military protestor horrifically injured in the course of his work, while "The Microorganism" is a catchy yet still affecting caution regarding AIDS.

My son John

My son John was tall and slim
And he had a leg for every limb
Now he's got no legs at all
They're both shot away with a cannonball
Well were you drunk or were you blind
To leave your two fine legs behind
Or was it from walking upon the sea
That took your legs from the ground to the knee
I wasn't drunk and I wasn't blind
To leave my two fine legs behind
Was a cannonball on the fifth of May
Took my two fine legs away
And all the foreign wars I'll now denounce
'Twixt this king of England or that king of France
I'd rather my legs as they used to be
Than the king of Spain and his whole navy
For I was tall and I was slim
And I had a leg for every limb
Now I've got no legs at all
You can't win a race with a cannonball
For I was tall and I was slim
And I had a leg for every limb
Now I've got no legs at all
You can't win a race with a cannonball

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