- 12 Oct 23
Ireland’s boldest ballad singers fine-tune their approach
There’s a thirst, throughout Ireland and beyond, for brazen defiance and authenticity in music today – and some would say that rock and punk isn’t quenching it like it used to. While commentators from a generation removed ruminate over the matter, The Mary Wallopers have – as the title of their new album, Irish Rock N Roll, suggests – have tapped organically into this contemporary anti-establishment pulse, while also rooting themselves in a long-established Irish tradition of resistance and rebellion.
From the jump, the spirit of the ballad group’s famed live shows – which have taken them from their local pub in Dundalk to performances for the BBC at Glastonbury – is readily, and headily, embraced. But long weeks and months on the road, with a line-up that was expanded beyond the central trio last year, has also resulted in a sound and sense of cohesion that’s sharper than ever. Even well-known tracks from their repertoire have been ripped wide open and explored, while their brilliant version of ‘Madam I’m A Darlin’’ spirals into an increasingly experimental space – putting the group in step with the boldest innovators currently shaping Irish music.
Having drawn plenty of inspiration from – and understandable comparisons to – The Dubliners and The Pogues in the past, with Irish Rock N Roll, The Mary Wallopers have carved their own notches into the Irish folk tradition. For the first time, they’ve included, alongside collected songs, their own original compositions, which turn out to be just as fearlessly political and impassioned as the Hendy brothers’ work as hip-hop group TPM. Like Shane MacGowan before them, they’ve managed to craft songs that are embedded in their own generation’s reality, yet sound perfectly at home with ballads that have withstood the test of decades, even centuries.
The Mary Wallopers’ crosshairs are aimed exactly where they need to be, denouncing landlords, the clergy, “Blueshirts”, and society’s tendency to punch down instead of up – calling out, on ‘The Idler’, the person “who forgets their history, and says ‘Ireland is full…’”
The final track ‘Gates Of Heaven’ is a cutting condemnation of the abuses of the church – delivered with unflinching frankness, and a subtle nod to long-time country influences. After building into an emotionally explosive climax, The Mary Wallopers floor us again, by leading out the album, in uncharacteristically though stunningly sincere fashion, with the well-known Irish air ‘The Dawning Of The Day’.
Although the unapologetic messing has gone nowhere, Irish Rock N Roll is an essential step-up for one of the most defiant yet inherently honest forces in modern Irish music.
Out October 13.