KYF Brewer and his madcap pirates in Barleyjuice are back with yet another batch of hard driving pub sing-alongs called, ingeniously, "This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things."
As the name would imply, the songs on this album are as about as dainty as a charging bull. The band has finally cracked that mythical code of producing an album that sounds exactly like their legendary live shows!
The band’s shows are the stuff of fiery, sweaty folklore, with beer splashing, glasses clinking and arms flailing. These new songs will be more fodder for the proverbial musical cannon, right from the opening number.
“St. Patrick’s Day,” a song by an up and coming singer songwriter named John Rafferty, is a stripped down affair with acoustic strumming and a harmonica, but the lads from Barleyjuice amp up the melody behind this parade route tale.
“The cop in the subway stuck an eye in my cup / said pour it out, Paddy, ‘cos I’ve seen enough /and move yourself along or its an Irish kiss /I’ll call for the wagon and haul your ass in,” Brewer sings while the band breathes fire behind him.
Readers of these pages will recall how I sung praises about Rafferty’s debut album, "Lucky." It is indeed gratifying to see other great artists noticing Rafferty’s brilliance.
“When I wrote that song I really did envision the machine that is Barleyjuice putting their fingers in the dough, kicking it around, and rocking it up a notch,” Rafferty says. “That’s exactly what they did! That was a pretty big deal for me.
“I was pretty knocked out when Kyf told me they were doing the song. I heard that they are closing their shows with ‘St. Pat’s,’ so I’m actually dying to see them.”
In a vocal delivery that can be best described as coming to after a long hangover and drooling on the pillow through each syllable, Brewer shouts “heave away this plastic Mary/for the truth shall be named and the rest shall remain in the dear old Catholic guilt” as a means to cranking up the raucous ditty called “Catholic Guilt.”
Even the instrumentals are wicked.
“Parish Jig” is the kind of track you’d put on before raping and pillaging a virgin island for her buried treasure. Keith Swanson (guitar, bouzouki, mandolin, pipes), Eric Worthington (bass), Gregor Shroeder (drums) and Brewer on guitar provide hair-pin curves for fiddler Shelley Weiss to drive the song.
Brewer’s sexy “Whiskey for Christmas,” a song that originally appeared on a Celtic Christmas compilation last year, has an oddball dandy vibe that would be perfectly at home on a Kinks album from the 1960s.
To be sure, "This Is Why We Don’t Have Nice Things" is a rowdy affair that provides just enough of the naughty for the nice folks on your Christmas list. You can find out more about the band on www.barleyjuice.com
I spoke to Brewer about the new album over the weekend. Here’s how it went:
How did you find “St. Patrick’s Day,” and why did you pick that song to cover?
John is related to Swanny (Keith Swanson) through marriage. He had sent a copy of his very acoustic Dylanesque version over a year ago. It was just guitar and harmonica, and the chorus was “Raise your glass it’s St. Patrick’s Day.”
I thought it was a great song just as it was and dismissed it for Barleyjuice until I began hearing a juiced up version in my head, with more of a thematic chant as the hook. The story he told in his lyrics all related to New York City so I thought, let’s blow it up. I wrote a last verse and we rocked it up and it worked.
I always wanted to ask you about one of your more famous songs, “Weekend Irish,” in which you make fun of Irish Americans coming to a festival for a weekend of culture. Did you get any flak from that song on your last album?
No! “Weekend Irish” is for everyone, and so far, no one -- including the Irish -- has ever taken offense to it.
I’m from Baltimore originally and have always loved the fact that Baltimorons love to make fun of their own culture -- much like the Irish. It endears us to ourselves, I think, and the reason the song is such a big hit is that the non-Irish are allowed to party like the Irish, and the real Irish get to celebrate their culture. Does that make sense? I think it does.
Your last album was "Skulduggery Street" and that had a theme — all the stories happened in this fictitious neighborhood. Is there any common theme here?
There’s no conceptual thread to these songs. Really just more of what we do best, done better. We’re at the point with Barleyjuice where the only challenge left is to write a new song that’s as good as the last favorite without sounding too much like it! Same with the covers. Just keep the creative edge sharp.
I think "This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things" represents some of the best work we’ve done, and so far the response has backed that up. Very rewarding for a guy who only ever really wanted to be a live performer.
Here's a video of Barleyjuice performing at the Maryland Renaissance Fair: