Brand New Bag
(Clandestine, 2002)

Although Brand New Bag is Lenahan's fourth recording, this was my first encounter with the band. And what an encounter! With such an eclectic mix of songs and tunes (roughly categorized as "Celtic rock"), the album could easily be flogged as a "various artists" compilation with no one the wiser.

I must admit that, at first, I wasn't entirely keen on the band's sound. The first track is a bagpipe funk (if you can imagine such a thing), and to my ears the pipes sounded a little out of sync with the rest of the instruments and the mood didn't really fit. However, this first impression didn't last at all. By the end of the song, I was over my unfamiliarity with the sound and decided that it actually sounded kind of cool. This trend continued throughout the album -- with each track I liked this band's sound more and more, and now I'm hooked!

Based in New York, Lenahan is Tom Lenahan (vocals, Highland bagpipes, lead and rhythm guitars, tenor sax, bodhran), Clarence Ferrari (fiddle, rhythm and lap steel guitars), Jim Nordstrom (electric bass) and Ryan Cavan (drums). A host of guest musicians provide sounds of bass, harp, flute, whistle, saxophone, trombone, cello, accordion, guitars, vocals and stepdancing.

I would have to say that the biggest strength of this album is the instrumentals. They are very cohesive and the arrangements are excellent -- not to mention quite unique. Trombones and Highland pipes? Saxophone and fiddle? Strange combinations, you'd think, but Lenahan makes them work like they were meant to be together. Of course, instrumentals are nothing if a band cannot express itself, and Lenahan certainly does that. There is a witty, fun sort of theme that runs through the album no matter what sort of style the band is playing at any particular moment (which, by the way, can be anything! This band plays reggae, ska, funk, country, jazz, rock, blues, Celtic -- you name it -- and all are done well).

I think that it would take hours for me to explain just exactly what this band sounds like, and why I like it, because they really are unique. There are songs -- and lead singer Tom Lenahan's smooth, velvety voice does justice to them all -- and there are instrumentals with excellent arrangements, rich harmonies and ample creativity. All are very different, very distinctive and very likeable, and the variety is outstanding. They don't really fit into any sort of category, but rather make one all their own. If you like upbeat Celtic music in a rockish context, I'd suggest giving this album a try -- you'll probably be glad you did.

[ by Cheryl Turner ]
Rambles: 22 June 2002