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Celtic pride

Broken with a Word
The Killdares

The bumbling weight of hard rock and heavy metal has dropped like a barbell on nearly every other genre of pop music, with mixed results. When it happily collided with punk in the '80s and early '90s, it conceived grunge; when it melds with funk, we're saddled with groove-metal; now it's infiltrated rap and ska, watering down and undermining those styles with such tepid unlikeness, it just proves what a weak link it can be after all. Of all the pop music types, metal often comes off like a hulking, awkward Baby Huey--it's eager, but tramples its surroundings with jarring, cock-rock insistence.

The Killdares call themselves "the one and only Celtic-rock band in the entire Southwest," and by the "rock" part, they mean preening electric guitars and big amps and produced polish-embellishments not usually associated with trad music. Their debut, Broken With a Word, looks innocent enough, its cover emblazoned by an encrusted Claddagh ring. But the nine songs within show up a slight schizophrenia; the band bastardizes its straight-up Celt-folk arrangements with neo-slickness. It's simple, really: The lilting fiddle and sweet mandolin and gravelly accordion of U.K. pub grub just don't jibe well with lacquered American punch. (The most successful Celt hybrid act, the Pogues, were onto something when they crammed punk's bile into drunken, brooding Irish sentiment.)

The shiny rock that occasionally pops in on Broken With a Word doesn't wreck the whole record, it just sullies the tracks it crashes into: "Brave Mourning" boasts a full five minutes of truly lovely, swirling melancholia before the spell breaks under an electric ax onslaught. The bright beer jig of "Mustafa" suffers under a Metallica-tinged chorus, and the record's lone cover, "The Queen of Argyll," almost--not quite, but almost--slides into Spinal Tap's "Stonehenge" absurdity. Whoa, Nellie.

The lead vocals by drummer Tim Smith have a flat, forced drama that matches the awkwardness of the electric guitars. Frankly, the band is most charming when it sticks to instrumentals: Linda Relph's swaying fiddle encircles the purist twang of Ed Walewski's mandolin and Wes Lorber's pensive acoustic guitar (when he puts down his Stratocaster for a thankful spell). When the Killdares grasp at the roots of their sound, they can nail any mood on the turn of a dime. The best track, "The Wounded Foot March," capitalizes on these strengths with wondrous results, evoking long nights of drinking in the back of O'Finley's bar in Galway, laughing with a mate one minute and crying in your Guinness the next. And the rest of the songs? Let's just say that when you're six beers down at the smoky end of the Tipperary Inn, it all sounds brilliant anyway.

--Christina Rees

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Christina Rees

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