To say the Quireboys have been busy in the past couple of years would be an understatement. Since the release of Beautiful Curse a couple of years ago, the boys have embarked on numerous tours and offered us the package of Black Eyed Sons, a year later. Less than a year later and they’ve gone one better this time. St Cecilia and the Gypsy Soul is a new album, the rare Halfpenny Dancer and a double live album entitled Halfpenny Live. And still less than the price of two albums.
“St Cecilia…” is exactly how a Quireboys album should be. It’s succinct. No song and indeed, the album as a whole, outstays its welcome. The Quireboys are one of the few bands who don’t need to deviate from their blueprint of constructing a song and every time produces something that’s fresh and unmistakeably theirs.
Album opener “Gracie B” is hauntingly dark. It’s grungy with the inimitable swagger which infuses many of their previous songs. There’s a hint of venom and anger punctuating the lyrics. However, it is the band dropped a couple of gears as opposed to their raucous selves.
Meanwhile with songs like “Land of my Father” and “St Cecilia”, it’s the Quireboys doing what no other band quite manages: good time rock and roll. Just the introduction to the former will produce a manic grin and you’ll be moving to the melody before you realise it.
Much of the album has a laid-back attitude with only a few upbeat numbers. While the band does stick to their rootsy, self-styled gypsy rock and roll, this brings something fresh to the table and is a welcome change. Ballads or heavier songs, the band have always flourished in both areas.
Spike’s voice, as always, is on top form. Potentially better than it was thirty years ago and aging far better than others. Growling and yelping, you can’t help but picture his infectious grin. It speaks volumes to the infectious nature of these songs and how well they’re written that just after a couple of listens, you’ll be singing with Spike, word for word.
Given the majority of the line-up hasn’t altered in years, it’s great to have Dave McCluskey and Nick Mailing return, possibly the best rhythm section the Quireboys have had. With its stripped back sound, drums and bass are less prominent than other works but the pair manage some incredible moments like “Adaline” and it’s the sound of a well oiled machine.
Guy Griffin and Paul Guerin are on fine form too, their guitars weaving around each other effortlessly, a sign of their enduring work together. Guerin also slips in moments of mandolin and lap steel, bringing more diversity and works them into the melody of the songs where they don’t feel unwelcome. Keyboard maestro Keith Weir flexes his muscles, driving most of the songs and appearing prominently in most of the songs, fleshing them out instead of hanging in the background.
Ironically enough, I listened to Halfpenny Dancer for the first time a few nights back despite owning it for some time. Much of it will be familiar to fans, with some of their better known songs given a fresh interpretation. If you’re a fan, you may already have Halfpenny Dancer but if not, it’s a welcome addition to your collection, breathing new life into old favourites.
Also in the package is Halfpenny Live, containing many of the songs from Halfpenny Dancer whilst adding in some of their best-known songs and deep cuts such as “Hates to Please” and performed to an audience.
St Cecilia and the Gypsy Soul is the Quireboys on unmistakeable fine form. It may not be A Bit of What You Fancy or Beautiful Curse but I’ll never turn away new material from the Quireboys. With three albums in less than two years, the Quireboys have a faithful following to coast on this material for a few years before turning their attention to a new album but if recent endeavours show, that may not be the case.