By Bob McMahon
By Allison Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By Carolina de Busto
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
Given St. Louis' deep Irish roots and love for rousing drinking songs, it's a wonder a band like Rusty Nail hasn't surfaced sooner. The septet plays an even split of rock & roll and Irish folk music, veering more toward the anthems of Flogging Molly than the boot-stomping Gaelic punk of Dropkick Murphys (though both bands, along with genre godfathers the Pogues, get a hat tip in the liner notes). Boozers, Bastards and Bards is the group's second effort, and at fourteen tracks it is a bit overstuffed with minor-key strummers that mine much of the same territory. The band, to its credit, doesn't pander with cheap sentimentality or boozy sing-alongs, though the dark tint of these songs can get a bit blinding at times.
Guitarist Alvan Caby is a fair vocalist and is supported ably by the band — the rhythm section brings a steely rock sensibility, while the fiddle and tin whistle add the appropriate set dressing; don't look for any virtuoso reels or jigs here. Chad Ross is a secret weapon, handling a few stringed instruments alongside the occasional accordion accompaniment. Songs like "Paper Kisses" show this mix at its clearest — the squeezebox carries the melody while acoustic guitar and mandolin strum colorfully along. These moments of well arranged, properly proportioned music show the discipline needed to keep a seven-person band in check.
The band's sounds are meant to evoke the Emerald Isle, but a few of Rusty Nail's better songs are more locally focused. "Deadbeat Daddy Docket Day" gives a slice-of-life scene from the family courts in Jefferson County. More striking is "Yadier Molina," which places the Cardinals machine-gun catcher amid a hero's lament; there are more than balls and strikes at play in this song. A few standards sneak in on Boozers: "Black Velvet Band" gives a much-needed burst of energy to the first half of the album (which is available on vinyl as well). "The Auld Triangle" drags a bit during the largely a cappella intro but improves after the tempo shifts away from an unsteady roll to a more comfortable rock beat. In any case, it's a tall order to cover a song that the Pogues perfected so devastatingly. But if you picture Rusty Nail in the band's ideal environment — a smoky pub when you're on the business end of a few pints — the album does its job of arguing for the importance of the barroom bard.—Christian Schaeffer
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