Monday, March 12, 2012

Irish Accents: Trouble (With a Capital T)

Horslips: Trouble (With a Capital T)


For a music geek like me, having access to a radio station’s library of music made me feel like a kid in a candy store. When I started training to be a DJ at WPRB, we were encouraged to come to the station’s beautiful basement studios and listen to music. One of the first records I picked out to explore was Horslips’ The Man Who Built America. I think it was the band’s unusual name that grabbed me at first, then the positive review that someone had written on a sticker on the album cover.

I immediately enjoyed their mix of Celtic music and rock; with the prominent flute, it sounded like Jethro Tull without the bombast. Over time, I investigated the other two Horslips albums the station had, Aliens and The Book of Invasions, and saw them as a trilogy—The Book of Invasions was about Irish folklore, Aliens was about the Irish experience immigrating to America, and The Man Who Built America was about the Irish experience in America. I also thought that these were the only three albums the band recorded—it wasn’t until years later, and because of the existence of Allmusic, that I found out that they had recorded a number of albums before these three, and many of them were considered to be better than the three I knew—their earlier sound was more like Fairport Convention or Steelye Span, with some prog rock influences.

The Book of Invasions is subtitled A Celtic Symphony and tells the story of the mythical, pre-Christian colonizers of Ireland, the Tuatha De Danann. Listening to the album as a whole, the band transforms traditional Irish music into rock songs, and there is a mix of modern, electric instruments, and more traditional Celtic sounds. The critics loved this album, much more than the next two, and after a couple more poorly received releases which progressively deemphasized the Celtic folk influences, they broke up. There was a time, in the late 70’s and even the early 80’s, where music like this would be heard on commercial radio, but Horslips never broke through in the U.S. Nevertheless, they are a band worth exploring.

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