Hadrian's Wall,
Elbow Grease & Whiskey
(self-produced, 2000)

The most recent CD release from Hadrian's Wall, Elbow Grease & Whiskey, should have come with one of those censored stickers reading Caution -- Do Not Play While Driving! The temptation to jump out of the car and start dancing is just too great.

The band's first CD to include the new lineup marks a definite change in sound for the band. The nucleus of the original band remains, with Terry O'Farrell (bass and vocals), Neil Emberg (guitar and vocals) and Richard Irwin (drums and vocals). But gone is the "pub song sing-a-long" style enhanced by accordion player Nelson MacPherson which made them such fun at festivals. Instead, the focus of EG&W appears to be on the instrumental accomplishments of the band and features the excellent musicianship of the newest member, fiddler Jay Weiler, who joined the group a couple of years ago at about the time MacPherson left. Not to worry though, there's still plenty to sing along with. And these guys are definitely great fun to listen to!

The opening track, "Fridge Full of Empties," is an energetic romp through three traditional tunes: "Tuttle's Reel," "Lady Anne Montgomery" and "Cape Breton Fiddlers' Welcome to Shetland." You can almost see kilts swinging and feet tapping -- you won't be able to sit still through this one. "The Underwear Song" is a hysterical ode to hitting the road, and surviving to do it again, that's guaranteed to get you smiling. I've always enjoyed "MacPherson's Farewell," and frontman Neil Emberg adds plenty of spice to their version.

My favorite tune is "The Bluenose," the hauntingly beautiful Stan Rogers tune about the schooner built in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia in 1921. Listening to Richard Irwin recounting her beauty and grace, The Bluenose comes to life again. In keeping with the seafaring theme, track 5 is the jaunty "South Australia," about completing the last leg of an ocean journey and turning for home. This song is more reminiscent of the earlier CDs, with everyone joining in for the chorus, and it's sure to have you singing right along. The title cut, "Elbow Grease & Whiskey," is another set of traditional tunes that includes "Miss Lyall," "Ms Grant of Laggan," "Sweeney's Buttermilk" and "Paddy's Trip to Scotland." It is reminiscent of the cowboy schottisches we still like to do in the dancehalls and bars here in Texas. I caution you again to mind the road and stay in your car.

"Aftermath," written by Canadian Kirk MacGeachy of Orealis, has a sweet melody. It's the tale of an all night St. Paddy's party that has the participants "carousing till the cows are coming home," then swearing off the drink and all night parties ... at least until the next St. Paddy's Day. "Roadside Jig Set," which includes "Kerfunten's Jig," "Eddie Kelly" and "Calliope House," highlights the cohesion Hadrian's Wall has found by adding a fiddler to the mix. Not to say the band was lacking in any respect before, but a fiddle seems just the right thing to make it all come together. The music is tight! "The Maid on the Shore," in which all the men in the story are bested by a fair maid who doesn't wish to keep their company, rounds out the recording. But don't hit the replay button too soon, there's one last lively little number hidden at the end of track 9.

It was an unexpected pleasure to hear and meet this band during their first trip to Texas last March. They're great fun to watch and listen to, all are gentlemen and have outstanding talent, and are sure to find a receptive audience in the Lone Star State when they return.

[ by Sheree Morrow ]