Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Enter the Haggis @ Jammin Java

We recently received a copy of Enter the Haggis latest CD, Gutter Anthems, and after several iterations of listening, knew we had to see the band live. Fortunately they were scheduled just down the street at Vienna's Jammin' Java. We have noticed this band tours constantly and plays at many popular festivals across the country. But listening to Gutter Anthems was our first real exposure to this somewhat celtic, somewhat rockish band. The CD starts out with "The Litter and the Leaves", traditional Irish fare at a breakneck pace - bagpipes, rhythm guitar, piano, drums, bass - what's not to like. The CD continues with more celtic flavor, but gets more complicated as the tracks progress. "Suburban Plains" was a favorite and sounds a bit like something out of Paul Simon's world music stage. Apparently drummer James Campbell listens to this genre often. Then Brian Buchanon added French lyrics (a benefit of the Canadian bi-lingual policy). An interesting song. "The Ghosts of Calico" really gets jamming, "Murphy's Ashes" a little metal, and "Lights and Cars" just a classic sound. Its as if I shuffled my ipod.

This evening they had two shows scheduled at Jammin' Java. The first thing I noticed is that the band streams their shows live through Enter the Haggis TV. If you can't make a show, they provide an opportunity to watch at home. What a great concept. Tonight, they opened with "The Litter and the Leaves" and their comfortable stage presence was immediately evident. This band knows how to interact with the audience. Particularly when Craig Downie puts down the bagpipes and starts calling for socials. They played several songs off the new CD, we learned that "Murphy's Ashes" was a tribute to Downie's dog which had become the band's dog. We also learned that this is no celtic band. This is a jam band that can rock. Guitarist Trevor Lewington and bassist Mark Abraham can jam, and when Buchanon plays the fiddle - watch out. But its the overall sound that's really entertaining. Bagpipes and drums, fiddle or piano, electric and bass guitars; where else can you find that combination. In fact, most of the crowd favorites were instrumentals where the abnd jams and the audience dances.

I look forward to the Celtic Fling at Mount Hope Estate & Winery, where the band is scheduled fro several sets. Maybe at that time we can discuss wine with Abraham or listen about Campbell's skydiving exploits.

Traveling with Enter the Haggis, was another Canadian band, this one with a bluegrass feel, The Abrams Brothers. We had also received their latest CD, "Blue on Brown", a tribute to Bob Dylan and Arlo Guthrie. The inspiration for the CD came from producer Chris Brown who had produced a similar theme with songs from Steve Goodman. In fact Goodman's "City of New Orleans" is by far the best track on the CD, a great orchestration; subtle harmonies blended with an equally subtle banjo, great vocals - a classic song. Dylan's "Nashville Skyline Rag" is a nice opening track.

What's particularly amazing about this band is how accomplished they sound for such a youthful band. John Abrams is 18, his brother James only 15, and their cousin Elijah, 18; add in two other occasional band members both under 19. The band is another example of why its important to see artists live. You can not fully appreciate how talented they are based on studio recordings. These young men and can play. Acoustic or electric, fiddle, upright bass - they will be surprising traditional bluegrass fans with drums and electric guitars this summer. The brothers came to play music, as well as roots-bluegrass music, from their family heritage - 4 generations worth, starting with the violin at 6 years of age. Want to learn more, watch the video on their website. I heard all I needed, fortunately I stuck around for their longer second set and am waiting for Iron Sharpens Iron arrives.

More photos are available at the MyJoog Facebook page.

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