Let's suppose that your mother disappeared under cover of night when
you were young. If you hadn't seen her for years, and you'd always
wondered where she'd gone, and then you ran into her in some unusual
place selling raffle tickets at the local mall, say, or
preaching Krishna Consciousness on a street corner well, you
wouldn't hold it against her, would you? Of course you wouldn't.
You'd throw your arms around her and you'd cry on her shoulder. "Mom,
Mom," you'd sob. "I thought we'd lost you."
Chances are good that you don't know who Cruachan are, or that
there's an Irish branch of the metal scene that tries to meld
Great-Wall-of-China-sized riffs with traditional Irish folk music.
That's all right. All you need to know is that Shane MacGowan, former
vocalist for The Pogues and one of the finest singers to ever channel
the muse, sings on their new EP. MacGowan, whose struggles with drink
and darker spirits are legendary, vanished from view after making
The Crock of Gold, the second album by his post-Pogues band
The Popes. He's since made an appearance here and there, but outside
of Ireland he's been nearly impossible to find. Those familiar with
his rumored exploits half-expected never to hear from him again, or
to hear only the dreadful news one dreads hearing of one's addicted
friends. His long absence represents a real loss to music, as
MacGowan possesses a genuinely unique and marvelous voice; he can
write lyrics of stunning beauty and wit when he feels like it.
Somehow or other MacGowan has come into contact with the Dublin-based
folk-metal band Cruachan. What Cruachan do is quite interesting,
fusing Irish reels to head-banging hard rock the EP's closing
number, "To Hell or to Connaught," recalls the late, great Gun Club
in its post-punk dissonance and desperate, driving rhythm but
"Ride On" could feature its title track alone followed by 20 minutes
of total silence and it'd still be an essential purchase. Written by
Irish folk singer Christy Moore, "Ride On" leads off here with some
tin-whistle; a cello and a muted rhythm section come in, and Cruachan
full-timer Karen Gilligan ably sings its first verse. When the chorus
comes around, Shane MacGowan begins singing: "Ride on/ See you/ I
could never go with you/ No matter how I wanted to," and then you
might as well stick a fork in those of us who loved the Pogues,
because we're done. He sings the next verse all by himself; his
phrasings are tossed-off, somewhat sloppy, and completely perfect.
Time has not diminished his rare, matchless gift for finding where a
song's heart lies and crashing into it like a wave against a rock
wall. MacGowan is also listed as co-producer, though one suspects
that his role involved more talking than knob-twiddling. It doesn't
matter. Nothing matters. For a verse and a chorus, the Voice is back.
It punches all the buttons it used to punch. It may even have gotten
sharper. It's so good it hurts. Yes, indeed. Shane, Shane. We thought
we'd lost you.