From Vancouver, the Town Pants have established themselves as Celtish rockers who sing a mix of traditionally influenced tavern songs and occasional soft folk ballads. They wowed the crowd at the Adams Avenue Roots Festival this year and have released many discs; the latest is Shore Leave. Led by lead singers Dave and Duane Keogh, the six-piece band plays the full spread of traditional acoustic instruments (tin whistle, gob iron, glockenspiel, claves, waterphone), with ace performers on mandolin (Dave Keogh) and, especially, fiddle (Kyle Taylor).
The sound on the disc draws from Appalachian hell-raising country folk music, but with that added taste of Celtish attitude that came to the Pogues in their prime by way of the punk movement. The sound is brash and no holds are barred, but tight; the songs are mostly original, but the subject matter is familiar – all but three of the ten songs are pretty much Irish tavern songs about the life of a drinking man.
The title song is a lively jaunt about a sailor getting ready to hit the shore to sample the port’s town women and booze, “Tonight it won’t be pretty ‘cause it’s drinkin’ time again,” and the fiddle and pennywhistle make the tune feel just a bit like a shanty. “Trains Not Taken” has introspective lyrics (not included) about living with our choices and missed opportunities; it’s a different, catchy mid-tempo ballad and has a metaphor message lacking in many of the other tunes. The gang steps on the gas for “Rainville,” a standout track with Taylor burning off charged fiddle licks that are breathtaking. Then, it’s “Drinking in the Graveyard,” having a vodka with Trotsky, absinth with Van Gogh, and zombies with Boris Karloff. Those ghosts can really put it away.
“Angel” is the disc’s love song, a lament to a lost love. The singer is bitter but relieved, the angel is free but alone. More drinking anthems follow, “The Unlikely Redemption of Oliver Reed” has a quirky spin, opening with a quote from the late actor/legendary drinker and moving through a good-natured tune about “If you need me, I’ll be drinking.”
“Coming Home” is about being on the road in the band, tired of highways and hotels, the same faces, a day from going home, and ready to sit and drink the day away; it is still framed in a Celtish-sounding melody and instrumentation.
And now for something completely different, or close: “Run to the Hills,” a cover of an eighties single by Iron Maiden about the massacre of Native Americans. The Pants don’t have trouble with the break-neck pace, and the lyrics about “Soldier Blue,” killing and raping for sport and otherwise ethnically cleansing speak for themselves. Seems like an odd selection for this disc, but the band deserves credit for taking a stand and making the song hit home.
Shore Leave will find a home with any admirer of Celtish folk rock or bands like the Dubliners, Pogues, or their descendents. The Town Pants have the genre down pat.