The Mickey Finns have been a staple at Paddy Reilly’s in New York City for the last few years and have expanded into the summer Irish festival circuit as a headliner. The band is set for another massive leap with the release of Prayers and Idle Chatter.
The album begins, “I left my kin all disappointed and my parents racked with grief/but they never cut the ties that truly bind.” Ray Kelly snarls in a hayseed stomper that would make the Charlie Daniels Band look over their shoulder.
Co. Clare singer/guitarist Kelly’s whiskey-soaked voice should be familiar to fans of Irish music. He was one of the original members of the jig punk band the Prodigals.
His ragged voice, so perfect for the punk idiom, adds a spicy outlaw vibe to the southern-fried Celtic country rock that is the Mickey Finn sound. He is joined by fellow Prodigal Brian Tracey in the band.
Tracey provided the thunder behind the drum kit for the Prodigals and he has since expanded into the role of chief songwriter, co-producer and guitarist for the Mickey Finns.
Fitting that the first song from the new album is “Return of the Prodigal Son,” because Prayers and Idle Chatter marks the first time in over a decade that the full original lineup of the Prodigals can be found on one disc.
“I’m still great friends with those guys,” explains Tracey of Prodigals leader (and killer squeezebox player) Greg Grene and bassist Andrew Harkin, who join the Mickey Finns for a few sessions.
“I didn’t think to ask Greg to play with us because he is so busy, but he heard ‘McGuinness’ Mass’ and he just loved it. I used him sparingly in small flourishes because it would be hard to duplicate it live since we don’t have the accordion.”
Kelly shows a softer side on “The Jetser,” a great pub singalong with a catchy “ba bada ba ba ba” chorus that’s hard to shake from your gray matter. You forget how much you miss hearing a great vocalist nail a song in these airbrushed and processed times in the music business!
Fiddle player extraordinaire Matt Mancuso hails from New York, and he adds a sweet country breeze through the song. As good as Kelly is, perhaps Mancuso is the band’s ace in the hole, bending the bow to change the tone of the music from bluegrass on tracks like “Return of the Prodigal Son” to Irish reeling on the Afro-centric “Two Jigs for Aoife” and back again. The former lead fiddler for Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance, Mancuso has performed with many other acts, including the Cathie Ryan Band and the Prodigals.
Multi-instrumentalist Eric Kaye plays just about everything else left to play -- bass, mandolin, and guitar A sought-after session musician and producer in his own right, he has worked with the likes of Clint Black, Marc Cohn, and Luther Vandross. His top shelf playing is all over this disc, adding crisp bass lines and strings to this high octane hootenanny!
While Tracey says he wrote most of the songs and sketched them out for the band in his home studio, he credits the band for bringing the rough ideas to new heights.
“It was great to see the band dig into these songs,” he says. “There were so many happy surprises that they added to the mix that I never would have considered.
“On ‘Absinthe (Makes the Heart Grow Fonder),” I was convinced that there should be this guitar riff in the mix when I heard the song in my head. Matt did such a great job on the fiddle that we left it in. Ray suggested changes in words that really made a difference.
“Though many of the songs started out as my idea, it’s definitely a band thing.”
“Absinthe” is an album standout, a barn burning track about living the rowdy life. The screeching classic rock guitar solos and a sassy fiddle calls to mind “Hot Dog,” Led Zeppelin’s foray into country music.
“We’re still a democratic band but there was a few times that you’d have to coax the band to try something they may not have wanted to,” Tracey says. “Sometimes, you find yourself negotiating things but overall, there was agreement.”
He describes a frustrating recording session that created the sweet “Ballad of Duffy’s Cut.”
“That was the last song I wrote. I was never pleased at the way Ray sang the track because he wasn’t getting the pathos of it. I went in and recorded it because I wrote it,” says Tracey.
“We gave him one last chance to sing it and in one take, he nailed it. He got everything in that song I wanted to say and as good as I thought I was, it didn’t come close to the job he did. He just has this great barroom vocal that you just can’t beat.”
Apart from their regular Saturday night gigs at Paddy Reilly’s, the band has an exciting few months planned that kicks off with a holiday gig on July 6 at Belmont Park racetrack followed by a proper release party of the CD that will be supported by a whiskey company that shares the band’s name.
If you’ve been looking for a country classic with a decidedly Irish vibe, your prayers have been answered with Mickey Finn’s Prayers and Idle Chatter. Check out www.themickeyfinns.com.