I first became aware of the Eskies last January, when I was at the sympathetic Banjo & Bovril Festival in Bray. I watched some great acts but had to make my way back to Dublin on the last Dart, thus missing the headliner. Just before I left, the Eskies fan posse entered, loud and numerous. I made a mental note to try and see this band at some point.
That opportunity arose during the summer, when I saw them win over audiences at the Cambridge Folk Festival and at Beautiful Days. The Eskies are a five-man band from Dublin and are perfect for festivals: They are loud, upbeat and humorous. I subsequently listened to their debut album, 'After The Sherry Went Round' and liked it well enough but found that it did not live up to the live experience. This is no great shame, as the same could be said about, say, Bellowhead or Gogol Bordello.
The Eskies released their second album in December and by all accounts it sounds as if they made a conscientious effort to create a record to hold up well at home for listeners who appreciate long players, as well as live. The album was recorded in Dublin's Orphan Studios and produced by Gavin Glass.
The Eskies' main sound is a mix of folk, klezmer, oompah and swing. Brass instruments are used liberally, the vocals are often call-and-response and the songs tend to get faster and faster before ending with a boom. This is something the Eskies are good at, and the songs are very catchy and will play on in your head after one or two listens. It is precisely the songs where they try to do something different however, that are the standouts on this album for me.
'Hail Hail' has a lovely Western vibe about it. The instrumentation is kept simpler, with a trumpet and some lonesome whistling. 'Building Up Walls' starts with singer Ian Bermingham sounding like Johnny Cash. The song is made up out of different parts, building gradually with military-style drumming and joyous brass sounds coming in halfway through. 'Death To The Sentry' features accomplished harmony singing (all band members bar one sing) and a single mandolin. The title track is a short instrumental coda that gives the album a proper ending.
The words of the songs seem secondary to the music. My impression was that they were written to be sung and to sound good, rather than to convey any compelling message (“I know what I have done but at the time of doing it I didn’t know what doing it would do”). Then however, I listened to the Eskies' podcast, The Unterrified Parishioner in which they go into some detail as to what the songs are about. This made me realise that there is more to the lyrics then I had picked up upon. 'Napoleon' for example deals with the current inequality between rich and poor; an important subject, but I had failed to recognise this underneath all the metaphors.
I was at the Eskies' Christmas gig at the Button Factory and saw first-hand how well this material works live. The band had a two man brass section with them for that show and it was a real party.
The Eskies have a tour of Australia coming up in March and no doubt they will be further promoting this new album at the summer festivals later on this year. Up the parish!