The Secret Commonwealth
(Available through CD Baby)
For over 20 years The Secret Commonwealth has entertained the Southeast with their lively Celtic tunes. The Murfreesboro band has released several albums in that time, but their latest, Last Call, is as brilliant a summation of that storied career as one could imagine. The band has outdone itself. The album does not merely encapsulate the band’s history; it manages to cover the entire history of Irish and Scottish music from the mid-20th-century Irish folk revival right up to the present day.
There is a touch and a taste of Tommy Makem, the Clancys, the Coors, Mary Black, Ron Kavana, Christy Moore, the Chieftains, the Pogues, Danny Doyle, Tommy Sands and many more classic and revered names on this album—all of it served up with the inimitable style and panache of the Secret Commonwealth. The instrumentation is broad, the orchestration is masterful. With flute and drum, guitar and banjo, fiddle and whistle and a whole host of other traditional and modern instruments the band has woven simplicity into complexity in what has become the high-water mark for Irish American music.
In 12 tracks, the band manages to run the stylistic gamut from traditional (“Til Jamie Comes Hame,” “Field of Bannockburn”) to contemporary (“Springtime Unknown”) and the delightfully Appalachian “Haints in the Holler.” The four-piece band (five if you count the Gnome) maintains a mastery of emotional expression that allows them to transition seamlessly from whimsical to somber with a full measure of “fired up and ready to fight” in between. Indeed, the casual listener must exercise caution lest he or she find themselves simultaneously dancing a jig, throwing a punch and crying into a glass of whiskey while wailing, “Oh jayzus…”
The album itself is beautifully engineered and has been released as a CD, digital download and as a 12-inch vinyl album (I HIGHLY recommend the vinyl if you have the means to play it) and is available through all the regular sources including iTunes, CD Baby, and, of course, directly from the band’s website and the band itself in concert. It is a must-have for lovers of Celtic music.
Awesome Songs for Cool Kids
I have never reviewed a children’s album before, and it was with some trepidation that I sat down to listen to Awesome Songs for Cool Kids by Alex Volz. I need not have worried. It seems these particular awesome songs have great appeal for cool kids of any age. The gruff-voiced Volz is everyone’s favorite uncle, the one who shows up at holidays with weird gifts from around the world, the one who invariably produces a quarter from behind your ear (or $5 by today’s standards) and is quick with a joke and a friendly pat on the head (he probably rides a motorcycle and wears brightly colored Hawaiian shirts for Christmas).
Where to begin with the tunes? There are, of course, the old familiar standards, but done in a way no one has ever done them before. Imagine the “Hokey Pokey” as performed by Black Flag and you start to get a sense of what I mean. “Old MacDonald” gets a new lease on life as a cheesy AM radio DJ with each successive verse delivered in a different style (country, disco, blues, etc.). It isn’t all old standards, however. “Tommy the Talking Taco” is cool before the tune even starts and “The Awesomest Monster” is easily one of the awesomest kids’ songs I’ve ever heard.
The album is drenched in distorted guitar, thumping drums and mischievousness—and frankly, it’s just good fun from beginning to end. Alex Volz is the sonic equivalent of the Animaniacs, Looney Tunes and Fractured Fairytales all rolled into one. It isn’t hard to imagine him touring with Weird Al. For all that, we still haven’t touched on the one thing that sets Volz apart from the rest: The album is free. You can download it right now for nothing at all or, if you prefer, you can email Volz and he will send you a hardcopy absolutely free of charge.
He explains this generosity by touching on a project founded by the lovely Dolly Parton in which every child born in Tennessee can, for the first five years of their lives, receive a free book in the mail courtesy of Ms. Parton. In that vein Volz has elected to make his music available absolutely free of charge, relying on Kickstarter and crowd funding to cover the initial recording costs. To hear more, to get your own copy of the album or just to see what this big ol’ cuddly teddy bear of a man is about, head to http://alexvolzkidsmusic.com