The Celtic pop/rock band Ceili Rain, centered around lead singer Bob Halligan Jr., got its start in 1995 in Nashville, as a more personal artistic expression for the songwriter whose credits include songs recorded by metal acts like Judas Priest (“[Take These] Chains” and “Some Heads Are Gonna Rolls”), KISS, Blue Oyster Cult, Kix, and Joan Jett, as well as pop artists like Michael Bolton and Cher. Halligan has since relocated back to his hometown of Syracuse, NY, but with the band’s 9th studio release, Crash This Gate, he continues deliver catchy pop/rock melodies, with lots of Irish folk music influences. Last month, the sextet gathered together from distant cities – including Cincinnati, Baltimore, and Roanoke – to play a show back in Nashville and Halligan explained that he sees Ceili Rain as “Chuck Berry, The Beatles, and the Chieftains amalgamated, leaning into the joyous elements of all three and drawing from the longing heart of Celtic Irish music with pop sensibilities.”
The 12 track collection opens with the big Irish pop of the title track, a rollicking rock tempo, with Irish flavoring from the tin whistles and pipes of Burt Mitchell, and fiddle of Joe Davoli. The song lives in the tension between a father who’d love to rush in and act as savior to their child but must respect that this is something the kid needs to do for themselves: “to see this business through, get where you’re going to.” Meanwhile the percolating pop of “It’s You I Love About It,” is an earthy love song written to a life-long companion, rich with lovely instrumentation interludes from the pipes and fiddle. In the piano ballad, “Birdhouse,” written with his wife Linda, he draws a lesson about acceptance because there’s a mouse who’s taken up residence in his birdhouse.
Halligan reveals his soul music side with “Love Corporation,” while tracks like “Ten Million” and “The Once and Future Human Race,” deliver that classic Irish pop blend of melody asides that hint at folk music traditions, while Halligan’s poppier melodies drive the verses. That last one is an anthem of positivity with hopes for the whole of the human community, an expression of that inclusive Celtic spirituality that attached a big circle representing the sun and the world to the crosses that fill Ireland’s cemeteries. On “Used to be White,” Halligan pushes back against any notions of racial supremacy, because he prefers to be and treat people right. And curiously, guitarist Raynond Arias’ solo sounds like it’s being played back over the song in reverse, a fitting sound that works well alongside Davoli’s fiddle.
The album closes with two of the best examples of Ceili Rain’s attempt to blend Irish musical roots with Halligan’s pop/rock song instincts. “Fall to You,” has a big anthemic chorus, and again the fiddle, pipes, and guitar work to deliver all the necessary flavors to keep things authentic, ringing emotionally true. Twenty seconds is a smart, percussive march, punctuated by the drums of Bill Bleistine and bass of Kevin de Souza; it’s a fun, barroom chant that you’d expect from the likes of The Waterboys or The Alarm, with plenty of fiddle and a burning guitar solo that allows Arias to shine.
I got to see Ceili Rain about twenty years ago by accident. I was in Nashville for a music conference and ducked into an Irish pub for some shepherd pie just as the loudest Irish rock band I’d ever heard was kicking off its lunch time set. I actually recognized Halligan because I’d seen him playing in a band with Rick Cua, a bass player I met when he was playing with the Southern Rock band, The Outlaws. The band was playing songs from their debut album, “Say Kay-Lee,” which I bought after I finished by stew, and you could hear Halligan’s big hooky metal chorus instincts mingled with the traditional Irish whistle, pipes, accordion, and fiddle. It was a hoot then, and it’s great to hear Halligan is still doing his thing, even if it’s a completely different group of players. Crash This Gate is a mature pop/rock record with a strong Celtic bent, both musically and spiritually.
“Fall to You” / “Crash This Gate” / “Twenty Seconds”
ARTISTS WITH SIMILAR FIRE
The Waterboys / The Pogues / The Alarm
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