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Ceili Rain: Crash This Gate
(Independent release, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 6/28/2023)
The revival of Celtic music influence has been around for a couple of decades now, with groups running from very traditional, to those using some of the traditional instrumentation mainly for effect. This week, we have essentially a rock band who bring the bring in the pipes, pennywhistles and fiddles into an electric context, and it turns out to be quite effective. It’s a long-running band called Ceili Rain, and their new album is called Crash This Gate.
Ceili Rain is a band from the Syracuse, NY area, which was founded in 1995 by Bob Halligan, Jr, who has had a long career as a songwriter for others, penning tunes that were recorded by heavy metals bands like Judas Priest and Blue Oyster Cult, as well as Cher, Joan Jett, Night Ranger and Michael Bolton. His songs were also used in the movies Wayne’s World and Iron Eagle, among others. Over the years, Ceili Rain has numerous personnel changes and guest members. Crash This Gate is the band’s ninth album, and their first since 2014. Halligan in the meantime has continued his songwriting for others, and worked as an adjunct professor at Syracuse University, teaching classes on songwriting, film scoring and the like.
The new album is basically a collection of sophisticated and lyrically literate rock and pop with frequent appearances by the trademark Irish instrumentation, with Burt Mitchell on pennywhistle and highland pipes, and Joe Davoli on fiddle and mandolin. The cast on this album also includes drummer Bill Bleistine, bassist Kevin de Souza, and additional guitarist Raymond Arias. The songs takes up topics like love, acceptance and a trio of songs that came out of the trials of the pandemic. The sound ranges from somewhat traditional sounding to electric rock to power ballads to some pop with contemporary ingredients like drum loops.
Opening is a piece that epitomizes the band’s sound, the title track Crash This Gate, a kind of anthemic rock tune about the strength of love. Its a nice blend with the pennywhistle, fiddle and bagpipes supplementing the driving rock beat. <<>>
The pipes get a more prominent place in the song It’s You That I Love About It, which turns into a kind of rock power ballad, with more contemporary elements like the drum loops. <<>>
A track called Birdhouse is said to be a song about accepting differences, and was co written with Halligan’s wife Linda, with the thought of turning it into a children’s book. It’s an eclectic blend of styles.
Ten Million is one of three songs whose lyrics were inspired by the pandemic and the loss of lives and the ways it changed people’s lives. It’s one of the highlights of the album with its effective use of the contrast between the Irish influence and an almost art-rock arrangement. <<>>
That leads into The Once-and-Future Human Race which considers the changes to the world and people’s lives the pandemic caused. Musically, it takes the form of another rock power ballad with the Irish instrumentation enhancing the musical textures. <<>>
One of the more interesting pieces lyrically is Used to Be White which is described as an awakening to diversity and inclusiveness. Again the band does a nice job with the rock-Celtic mixture. <<>>
My Specialty is a love song written from the standpoint of long-married spouses whose love has not faded. <<>>
The album ends with a rousing Celtic rocker called Twenty Seconds a kind of call to arms against adversity. <<>>
Celtic rock bands have a long history, going back to groups like Horslips in the early 1970s, and U2 showing a little Irish influence in some of their earlier recordings, up to this year’s album by Bog Bodies which we recently reviewed in this series. Most of the groups have been Irish, but the American band Ceili Rain manages to inject traditional Irish and Celtic instrumentation into intelligent contemporary rock and pop songs, without it sounding forced, and with lyrics that are not trying to sound like old folk songs. Some of the tunes borrow a few more pop cliches than I would have liked, but overall the result is generally tasteful.
Our grade for sound quality is about an A-minus. The mix keeps everything in focus, but as is so often the case, dynamic range is undermined by volume compression.
Ceili Rain’s Crash This Gate, the group’s first new album in nine years, provides a satisfying mix of rock and Celtic influence that will stand up to repeated listenings.
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