The Paperboys,
(Stony Plain, 1997)

The Paperboys, a band hailing from Vancouver, British Columbia, followed on Great Big Sea's heels to perform recently in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. While I was unable to make the show, I managed to snag the band's latest CD, Molinos -- and I'm sorry I missed them.

While certainly not as deeply rooted in Celtic and maritime traditions as Great Big Sea and some of the other great Celtic-Canadian bands which have begun making their presence known in the States, the Paperboys have an infectious style of accessible, bluegrass-tinged pop-rock which definitely makes listeners aware that, yes indeed, a Celtic influence is at work here. Just listen to Shona Le Mottee's blistering fiddle riffs or Hank Araki's swirling whistle solos in some of the band's bouncy dance songs if you don't believe me.

The Paperboys brings together the talents of six musicians: Tom Landa (lead vocals, guitars, bouzouki, mandolin), Cam Salay (banjo, bass), Paul Lawton (drums, percussion, vocals), Shona Le Mottee (fiddle, vocals), Hank Araki (flute, low whistles, whistles, shakuhachi, vocals) and Shannon Saunders (accordion, bass, fiddle, viola).

Most of their original songs (Landa seems to be the band's most prolific writer) have a wistful pop air about them, but there's a driving undercurrent of Celtic wildness and bluegrass stylings which set the Paperboys apart from their just-pop peers. Just take a listen to the title track, "Molinos," which starts off with a dance-floor drum beat and Landa's lines about not fitting in with the mainstream -- and catch the snippets of "The Foxhunter's Reel" which keep the tune moving at a lively pace. The same is true of "Salvation," a song about love lost to religion, which makes good use of the John Campbell reel "Sandy MacIntyre's Trip to Boston" for added flair.

Landa and guest singer Steve Mitchell combine forces to write "After the First Time You Lose," an upbeat but poignant ode to aging past that first blush of youthful adulthood. "Oh Maria" is Landa's bouncy tribute to the road -- and the woman -- not taken. "I've Just Seen a Face" is an optimistic Lennon/McCartney tune coupled with the "Coast of Austria" reel. They've also given extra vocal and instrumental drive to the Ed Pickford miners' song "Pound a Week Rise."

If the songs are less appealing, you'll still probably find something to smile about in the Celtic-bluegrass breakdowns which fill the album. "Annabell's Reel/Theme Time," for instance, is likely to set your stereo smoking with sheer brilliant fingerwork. The bass and percussion shoring up an unyielding fiddle in "Drunken Wagoneer" prevents it from sounding like any ol' Irish tune -- it's got a definite Paperboys flair. There's no denying the Celtic influence behind "Swallow's Tail Jig/Cabin Fever Ceilidh/Swallow's Tail Reel."

"While You Were Sleeping" begins an Araki whistle set in slow, airy motion, before kicking into the fast-paced "The Breathing Method/The Jaunt." For something completely different, check out "Ray's Ukranian Wine Cellar Polka/Nelli's Afterthought," a lively combination of a Ukranian wedding polka and an original polka by Saunders. If this doesn't end your listening experience on a foot-tapping upbeat, your volume must be down all the way.

Canada just keeps sending more and more good stuff down south over the border into the States. With any luck, a few more American musicians will be inspired to put out good stuff like this. In the meantime, there's the Paperboys to help carry the slack. What are you waiting for?

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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