The Irish Herald/The New Irish Gael
Barking Up The Right Tree
by Liam Cassin
Culann’s Hounds’ second album, Year of the Dog, was greeted with unbridled euphoria by the band’s substantial fan base when it was released at the St Patrick’s Day Hooley they headlined at the Great American Music Hall. The Hounds have been growing in stature on the San Francisco music scene for six years now and their unique fusion of “core values” Irish trad and high energy - almost punk - rock, has brought them within striking distance of a national breakthrough. The list of Celtic music greats for whom they have opened could not be more impressive: Paddy Keenan, Martin Hayes, Liam Clancy, Lunasa, Tommy Peoples, The Boys of the Lough, Solas, Susan McKeown, Josephine Marsh, Gary Shannon, Andrew MacNamara, Tempest and Seven Nations.
Indeed, some of the tracks on Year of the Dog are collaborations with Chanting House vocalist McKeown and East Clare accordion maestro MacNamara. Also freatured are New Monsoon’s Ben Bernstein who plays bass throughout, Blue’s Traveler’s singer and harmonica player John Popper, Dierdre Corrigan on flute and Hounds alumnus Conall O’Raghallaigh, surely on of the better pipers in North America today.
The Hounds, seen live, are something to behold. Raucous, rollicking performances and a stage presence that exudes raw energy and fun are trademarks of this quartet. Year of the Dog faithfully captures this essence. It also offers striking virtuoso performances from all the band members. Steve Gardner is a giant on the fiddle and his viola and mandolin skills are also showcased here. Mike Kelleher seems to keep everything moving forwards with powerhouse work on acoustic guitar. Both lads also get a chance to air their vocal chords. Kelleher gives a very sincere rendition on The Foggy Dew, timely given that this is the ninetieth anniversary of the Easter Rising. Gardner excels on the Pogues anthem Dirty Old Town and the more traditionally rooted Wild Mountain Thyme. The latter, after a steady start, develops into a whirlwind of delicious harmony, not surprising really when you know Susan McKeown is involved. It’s really hard not to be overcome with an abiding sense of glee when you listen to this. The lineup is completed by Renee de la Prade who brings another highly pleasing melody dimension with her button accordion and Scott Marshall, whose work on the Bodhrán is nothing short of masterful.
All in all a commendable sophomore effort.