It pays to ride the Donegal X-Press
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One of our favorite bands is back with a vengeance! Baltimore’s Donegal X-Press has just released their new album Paid Off the Boom.
Featuring 12 new tracks, including covers of Steve Earle’s “Johnny Come Lately” and Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel,” Paid Off the Boom is Donegal X-Press’ sixth studio album and an audibly artistic detour from their previously recorded material.
Brad Dunnells (guitar and vocals) and Jason Tinney (harmonica and vocals) began collaborating and writing songs in the late 1990s with the hope of rejuvenating Irish American music.
Right out of the gate, they won an album of the year nod from the Irish Voice back in 2001. They have veered off into other projects over the years that include the Wayfarers and the Publicans, amassing country and traditional influences on some of those side streets.
Those influence play well on Paid Off the Boom, an engaging mixture of southern fried Irish soul.
Tinney and Dunnells are joined by long-time band members Laura Hein (keyboard and vocals) Jeff Malcom (bass), Skye Sadowski (fiddle and vocals), and Jeff Trueman (drums). They have no problem shifting from blues to country to rock.
And hats off to Tinney for his blistering harmonica lines on “White, Free, and 21.” I might have just found my summer driving song of 2012!
There’s something in Dunnell’s phrasing and vocal delivery throughout the disc that leads one to belief he visited the attic of Honky Tonk Chateau to find his inner Elton John. It’s most notable on the title track as he sings, “You’ve one life to live -- it’s yours to give -- my daddy tongued his life away/Culling oysters from the bay - the good Lord will deliver on the Chester river - he used to say/ Oysterin’ was not for me -- my hands were soft my legs were weak.”
The band strays far from their Irish roots at times, but the homeland is never far away from their thoughts and lyrics. A straight rocker called “Dublin City” recounts a tangle with the natives.
“You were standing there -- red hair at the city square -- couldn’t look more like you didn’t care/Nicotine stained grin said you can look but don’t touch I guess I never listened much heard less so I guess -I never took no for an answer Especially when it came to you.”
“Once, a long time ago, in a life far, far away I was crazy about a girl from Dungarvan, County Waterford,” explains Dunnells during our interview when asked about the track.
“She was quite a challenge. Like most relationships that span the Atlantic Ocean, ours was complicated. ‘Dublin City’ is a fictional account of that relationship written by me, for her. I believe she now lives in Australia.”
Donegal X-Press might have changed things up a bit, and yet they’ve always been about stories dancing around tangled roots music -- it’s what’s made me a fan of this band for over a decade. I caught up with Dunnells over the weekend and we chatted about the band’s longevity and new directions. Here’s how it went:
It occurred to me as I look at your press release and see the article I wrote about you in 2000 – man, you guys have been at this for a while! It's not easy to keep a band together. How does it work for you?
It certainly is not easy. To think we have had the same lineup of musicians for 10 years is pretty amazing. And, to realize that the original band was formed on March 1, 1997 is very sobering. Time flies.
I think at the root of our success in keeping the same people engaged for so long is a testament to the strong friendships that we have developed as a result of the band. We genuinely love one another and are engaged in each other’s lives outside of playing music. We respect one another’s opinions and have a very democratic process for making decisions.
I think Sting once said that a band can only be governed by a benevolent dictatorship. That is not true in our case. Collective buy-in and open communication has always worked best for the Donegal X-Press.
Funny story in regard to time flying by. I went to a frat party hosted by my bass player in I think 1993. I drank too much grain alcohol mixed with Hawaiian punch and had to go home early.
Turned on MTV and saw Black 47 doing ‘Funky Ceili.’ I said, ‘I don't what the hell this music is but that's what I want to do.’ Got my hands on a bootleg copy of their record from the girl across the hall who was from Queens. I think her name was Jerry Kotch. Sent out mix tapes of it to all my friends from home. They said I was crazy.
How would you describe the DXP sound to someone who has never heard it? How do you think it has evolved since the last album?
I often describe us as Irish roots/rock/Americana. We come from a wide variety of musical backgrounds and have always enjoyed mixing musical genres.
We are very tough to pigeonhole. We never do the same set twice. We play the audience. And enjoy playing our original material.
If you enjoy the unexpected and are someone that would order fried potato wontons off the menu in an Irish pub, then you will likely enjoy our music.
Our last album, Stand Alone, was very dark and gritty. It was a reflection of the times an attempt to go in a completely new musical direction for the band.
Paid Off the Boom is more refined. Much stronger song writing. Better produced and has much more universal appeal.
Paid Off the Boom is a great representation of what we sound like live and what you would expect to
hear on a set list. I am most proud of the songwriting. My collaborations with Jason and Skye on this record resulted in some of the most honest song writing I've ever done. Most notably, ‘Day in August.’
Overall album kudos really need to go to Ed Tetreault, our producer. Many of the arrangements, the tracking and the individual performances were garnered as a result of his vision. He is a tremendous engineer and producer. He is also a killer Hammond player.
What advice would the guys today have for the group that made Quinn's Diaries back in the day?
Don't spend too much money on recording an album. Know what you want before you go into the studio. The studio is an expensive place for experimentation and practice.
If the song stinks don't put it on the record. Maybe over the long haul, analog doesn't sound as good as digital.
Ask for the master tracks when you finish so you can re-mix the album in 10 years. Don't wear sunglasses, a hat and/or Nike athletic gear in the album photo. You will look silly in 10 years.
Baltimore is not always known for being an Irish hub – performers like Mick O'Shea and yourselves are evidence to the contrary. What don't people know about the "green-ness" of the city?
There are a ton of great Irish pubs that have popped up over the past 10 years in the city, Liam Flynn's Ale House and Life of Reilly to name two of the many.
We have a huge St. Patrick's Day celebration with a city-wide parade. We have the Irish Railroad Workers museum. A large-scale Irish festival that attracts national and international Irish talent. A number of clubs and groups that host traditional Irish music and dance instruction. And many touring traditional and Irish/rock groups come through music venues in Baltimore, Annapolis, and Silver Spring.
For more information on the band, visit
. Follow them on Facebook while you’re at it and make sure you drop by iTunes to pick up the music!