The Mickey Finns – Prayers and Idle Chatter (2012)

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It’s easy to pigeon-hole the Mickey Finns as a New York City-based Celtic band. You’ve got the fiddle, the drinking songs, a reel and a jig on Prayers and Idle Chatter. But there is a lot more going on here.

For instance, “Return to the Prodigal Son” adds a honky-tonking randiness to the typical Irish folk template, complete with a whiskey-chased vocal from Ray Kelly about a ne’er-do-well who finally returns home. At the same time, there is a deep-seated Celtic sensibility from the sawing fiddle to the skipping rhythms. It’s clear from the first that the Mickey Finns aren’t tearing down the paradigm, so much as adding their own twists — and brilliant ones, at that.

“Sweet Clare Girl” doesn’t take as many chances with the form, but its lonesome cadence still carries just a whiff of front-porch folk. “Loop Reels” and “Two Jigs for Aoife,” perhaps as expected, are fleet fiddle features, but with an interesting cross-current from drummer Brian Tracey. “The Jester” shambles along like a warbling country honk.

Not that there aren’t moments when the Mickey Finns — rounded out by multi-instrumentalist Eric Kaye — decide to play it straight.

“McGuinness’ Mass” is a classic pub-crawl theme, complete with a brawny sing-along vocal. The deliciously named “Absinthe (Makes the Heart Grow Fonder)” is likewise a sodden delight. “Tanks and Barbed Wire” explores the more turbulent side of Irish history, with a moving tale of resiliency through “the Troubles.” A similar sense of hard-eyed determination runs through the rumbling fable “Dark Roll Down the Dawn.”

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Still, Prayers and Idle Chatter is at its best when the album takes more chances.

“The Ballad of Duffy’s Cut,” for instance, sounds something like a kelly-green Gordon Lightfoot. Finally, there’s are the off-kilter complexities of “Be Minor,” with its episodic song structure — fiddler Matt Mancuso trickles then races at breakneck speeds — and thrilling narrative heft.

Until the end, the Mickey Finns find a way to celebrate this age-old tradition, even while they give it a swift kick in the pants.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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