Absolutely At The Top Of Their Game
The Young Dubliners
Mary Ellen Gustafson
I wandered around the Dubs web site debating what to write about a band I knew so well. Their site focused on their latest album, Absolutely, with a bunch of descriptive phrases like this one: “…[the album] features 12 songs that capture the hellfire intensity and absorbing musical diversity of the Dubliners’ acclaimed live shows. This auspicious new album is a lyrical triumph as well, with the Dubliners spinning challenging yet optimistic stories that underscore the complexities of modern life.” Wow! That was a mouthful. The statement is true, but after talking to Keith Roberts and seeing the Young Dubliners play live, all the fancy words seem out of place. This is a great band with down-to-earth members who have one hell of a good time on stage and off and trust me, their language doesn’t sound ANYTHING like this. I think Keith may be running a close second to Ozzy with the F word, only his is with an Irish brogue instead of an English accent.
While talking to Keith, I filled in the blanks since the last time I’d seen them. He told me they spent the entire year of 2001 touring, opening for Jethro Tull, John Hiatt, and other bands, then went on to a European Tour which ended up with them playing “…305 shows straight.” In 2002, “we put together the ‘Uprooted Tour’ with Great Big Sea from Canada and Seven Nations from Florida in order to introduce our audiences to different types of celtic and rock stylings. The idea was to show diversity and we accomplished what we set out to do. Then we went into the studio, recorded Absolutely in two weeks, then hit the road again in support of the new album.”
I think all of the above would have a tendency to hone the skills of pretty much any band — especially one that has always relied on their live shows for their popularity — and the new album is great! The lyrics run the gamut from deadly serious to bawdy to ridiculous and story songs have always been part of the Dubs’ music. They’ve made a HUGE jump musically, vocally and lyrically since the release of Red. They’ve also gone back to the original line-up for this album and tour with the return of Chas Waltz on fiddle, keyboards, harmonica, mandolin and backing vocals, joining Keith Roberts on guitar and lead vocals, Bob Boulding on lead guitar and harmonies, Brendan Holmes on bass and David Ingraham on drums.
I’d like to thank Keith for clearing up another point for me. I wanted to know if “Irish” music and “celtic” music were considered different styles or genres. In my head I’m thinking, there’s the songs you hear on St. Patrick’s day or songs like “Danny Boy,” etc. and then there are the songs you hear from bands like The Young Dubliners, Flogging Molly, Dropkick Murphy’s, etc. which sound totally different to me. Keith told me “It’s more a case of all of it being celtic and then each band adds their twist, whether it’s rock or punk or traditional and in some cases bands actually rip off their sound from other bands.” So, once and for all, Irish music is CELTIC!
I also wanted to know about the political bent of so many Irish bands (or bands with Irish members). Keith informed me that he has a degree in politics from University College Dublin and could talk politics all day if he chose to. “As far as politics as a subject for our songs, maybe in the very early days there was a little, but we’re not into preaching. We’re talking about things that happen in everyday life. Some people want to write about political opinions or other political subjects. Young Dubliners is made up of Americans as well Irishmen, so the subject matter covers all bases.”
Our time was cut short because their tour bus broke down on the way and they were five hours late, but I did manage to ask what his favorite song from the album was. His reply, “At the moment ‘Brown Dog’ and ‘Low.'” I agreed with both choices and commented on how the lyrics to “Low” were so serious compared to the upbeat music, which he was glad that I noticed. I also asked which was the most difficult song on the album and he hmmm’d for a few minutes and finally settled on “Name.” “We had the music, the album was done and we were down to the wire except for the lyrics to that song. It was literally finished at the last minute.” As far as I’m concerned the lyrics fit perfectly, so maybe that’s the way it was supposed to be.
The Young Dubliners: http://www.youngdubs.com/