Spade McQuade & the Allstars,
Spade McQuade & the Allstars
(First Street Live, 2003)

Spade McQuade, formerly of Energy Orchard and Celtic Soul, is an Irish folk-rock musician working out of Jacksonville, Fla. His current CD is a live recording of performances at Fly's the Pub, in Atlantic Beach, Fla. Its ambitions seem modest, perhaps no more than to let you know what McQuade & the Allstars sound like at the watering holes where they make their living.

From the evidence of the disc, I can state that they're a decent if not especially distinguished roots-rock bar band. Instead of the usual rock 'n' roll classics and country songs you hear in your better joints, their repertoire consists mostly of Irish-based music, including traditional (though mildly rocked-up) standards familiar to anybody who's listened to the Dubliners or the Clancys & Tommy Makem: "Whiskey in the Jar," "Belfast City," "Mountain Dew." There's also the way-overrecorded "Dirty Old Town," one of Ewan MacColl's lesser compositions but one that, for some reason, every unimaginative pub act feels it must do. It does McQuade no credit that he could think of nothing better with which to fill the second cut.

The one country song, June Carter and Merle Kilgore's immortal and very carefully written "Ring of Fire," suffers from McQuade's mangling of some of the words in a manner that will irritate anyone who knows and loves the song and the full-blooded human story behind it. McQuade and band resurrect Mike Scott's terrific "Fisherman's Blues" -- perhaps the best neofolk song of the 1980s -- and do it no grievous injustice, except that Scott's band, the Waterboys, did it so much better on their 1988 album of the same name. In their handling, the song, about a train hurtling through the night, sounds like a train hurtling through the night. McQuade borrows the arrangement pretty much lock, stock and barrel, but somehow the overwhelming power of the original escapes him.

Perhaps unwisely, he and the band cover Shane MacGowan's "Fairy Tale of New York." It's a good song, and they do it OK, but MacGowan's delivery is so distinctive -- so full of rage, self-pity and pathos laced almost inexplicably with humor -- that it just isn't possible not to long for the original. I don't share McQuade's affection for Bap Kennedy's writing, though people whom I respect disagree with me on this. Agree or disagree, you will want to know that there are three Kennedy compositions here.

- Rambles
written by Jerome Clark
published 3 July 2004