Spend enough time in Irish bars in the United States (or, if you're lucky, Ireland) and you'll find that there are two types of Irish musicians: dexterous instrumentalists who can spin through reels and jigs on fiddles, tin whistles and accordions, and guitar strummers who lead the pub in boisterous or teary-eyed sing-alongs. On their first outing, Joe Stickley (Joe Stickley's Blue Print) and Sean Canan (Bockman) are firmly in the latter camp, having strung together thirteen tunes of folksy good cheer. Stickley and Canan have been holding down the tiny stage on Sunday nights at John D. McGurk's in Soulard, and that stint has helped the pair add the trappings of American folk music to these well-known, well-worn Irish chestnuts. Stickley and Canan are both fine, hearty singers, and they thankfully don't pour much schmaltz on these already sentimental tunes.
While the bulk of Loaded to the Gunwales is covers-heavy, Stickley contributes two originals to the collection. The first, "Old Irish Ladies," fits the mold but relies on tired Irish stereotypes that are more boring than offensive. "Ditty Bag" is much better, a slow, sweet love song to a life on the sea; this record could use a few more songs like it. The inclusion of Steve Earle's "Galway Girl" is an inspired move, and Canan's mandolin strokes and Andrew Weir's accordion help the tune spring to life. But the remainder of the record is bogged down by a track list that reads like a greatest-hits collection of Irish drinking songs. Even the Guinness-averse know the words to "Dirty Old Town" and "The Irish Rover," while "Whiskey in the Jar" should have been locked in the cupboard after Thin Lizzy perfected it. Nearly half of these songs have been covered by the Pogues (not to mention countless other bands), and while the duo's approach lends a country-ish flavor, one wishes that Stickley and Canan would have dug a little deeper.
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