Nar·row·back [nar-oh-bak], noun, slang -- a person of slight build who is unfit for hard labor.
Who among us Irish Americans hasn’t been called that at one time or another? The Narrowbacks, a band lead singer Seamus Keane says was “born in a slummy Iona College dorm after some late night sing songs, a couple whiskeys,” is a boozy, fun soundtrack to the experience of being a narrowback!
Indeed, The Narrowbacks: Fire it Up doesn’t seem born out of hard labor. It is a loose, labor of love that combines tried and true traditional ditties with fun originals.
Keane explains that the New York Irish American music scene is of the highest quality, with the Veseys of Celtic Cross and the McCarthy brothers from Jameson’s Revenge and Shilelagh Law playing their instruments at a level where they win All-Ireland awards everywhere they turn.
It was intimidating at first to a band like the Narrowbacks, who had no such experience with playing. Typical of this music scene, however, the Vesey and McCarthy clans took the lads under their wing, giving them music lessons when needed and inviting them to share the stage at crucial gigs.
“We don’t have that professional background,” Keane says with a laugh. “I mean, Denny McCarthy does Hendrix on fiddle -- that’s the level that you have out there. Meanwhile, we’re in the apartment looking up banjo tags.”
Yet the do-it-yourself ethos (or DIY for short) is the axis that rock and punk spin on, isn’t it? That joy of discovery and unpolished riffing is all part of the Narrowbacks’ charm.
“The original song ‘Doubt It’ was the first song we ever wrote,” Keane says. “I didn’t even know how to play an instrument. So it was fun to experiment.”
A highlight of the disc is “The Confessional,” a sunny, mandolin-driven ditty about tumbling into a confession box to unburden your soul while nursing a wicked hangover.
“I walked in late to Mass, bloodshot eyes and everybody knew/if they didn’t then they found out when I passed out in the pew/I waited till after Mass and screamed, please excuse me father/can you hear confession now?” Keane sings.
The Narrowbacks include lead singer Keane, Barry Walsh on tenor banjo and mandolin, Mike Moran on bass, his brother Patrick Keane on button accordion, Fionn McElligott on guitar and Chris Moran on drums and percussion. They run through “Leaving of Liverpool,” “Tell Me Ma,” and “Whiskey in the Jar” with the frothy fun of a great bar band, which they are. They clearly know every speck of dirt that lines their Irish roots!
“My father is one of 11 from Connemara, from the Irish speaking section,” Keane says. “My mom was born in Queens and moved back to Clare. They met in the Bronx, moved up to Pearl River, and had six kids, including my brother Pat on the button accordion. Chris Moran on drums and Mike Moran on bass are Irish American brothers as well.”
Keane and the band are children of the nineties, cutting their teeth on Nirvana and Soundgarden. The traditional Irish songs of their parents were the furthest thing from their minds but, as is the case for so many, the Pogues changed all that.
“Obviously, we come from the tradition of the Pogues,” he says. “So many of us hated Irish music growing up until you hear Shane, and it creates this gateway to Irish music. Then you reach back into things like The Clancy Brothers and Luke Kelly to see what influenced Shane.”
That musical journey from honoring the traditional influences to finding your own narrowback voice is on full display on Fire it Up.
They are gigging all over the area this summer, including Sunday, July 14 and Sunday, August 11 at Rory Dolan’s in Yonkers, and Saturday, July 20 at Arlene's Grocery in New York before joining Celtic Cross on Friday, July 26 at Mulcahy's in Wantagh, Long Island. To find out more about the Narrowbacks, check them out at www.Narrowbacks.com or www.facebook.com/thenarrowbacks.