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A Dark Tale

Sabotabby: A Band That Deserves A Hand

Bill Adams

If talent alone was all that was required for a successful recording career, the Canadian Celtic/folk quintet "Sabotabby" would be putting out at least one CD per year for a solid independent label, maybe Rounder Records or John Prine's "Oh Boy" outfit. That would mean at least seven releases. Instead, I have two CD's to review, a debut from 1998 and a follow up made in 2000. What a shame.


The more recent release, titled "Celtibilly" was made in Canada. It comes in at just under 37 minutes, which is short by today's standards, but my, it is a good 36:51, well worth playing twice in a row. The band members are Patrick Gouthreau, Glenn Edwards, Eric Lackey, Terry Joe Rodrigues and Anj Daub. They take turns doing lead vocals, but for my taste, Edwards is the best voice in the group. The instruments, many hand-crafted by a variety of Canadian craftsmen, include fiddles, mandolins, guitars, tin whistles, banjos, bass, harmonica, bodhran and bouzouki.

On this disc, there are only ten tracks, a couple of them instrumental medleys of traditional tunes. The CD begins with a competent, but not special, version of "Shady Grove" which concludes with the instrumental "Cluck Ol' Hen." Then comes a song written and sung by Edwards, "King Arthur" which is lovely and reminds me a bit of Al Stewart's historical ballads. On Track Three, Edwards is back again, doing the lead singing on the traditional ballad "Peggy Gordon" in fine fashion. The next item is an instrumental medley combining the traditional tunes "Red Haired Boy", "June Apple" and "Old Joe Clark." It is beautifully accomplished. The fifth offering is a love song titled "Before I Met You" and sung by Eric Lackey without accompaniment. It is simple, even corny, but compelling. I was reminded of Roger Miller's ironic song from the musical "Big River" -- the one titled "You Oughta Be Here with Me." Track Six is a spoof on cops and their favorite snack foods, called "Doughnut Eater", written and sung by Patrick Gouthreau. The next serving is another medley, also quite pleasant, involving traditional tunes "Over the Waterfall" and "Soldier's Joy" and "La Bastringue" (which has some vocalizing) and "Whiskey Before Breakfast." Terry Joe Rodrigues wrote and sings "Cookie-Bakin' Grandma" just for fun. Edwards then returns with his own song, "Amy Allen" featuring a strong vocal. The CD winds up with Woody Guthrie's "Deportees" again with Glenn Edwards in the lead. I've heard lots of famous singers or groups do that song over the past 40 years, but Sabotabby's version is one of the strongest. It isn't as good as Cisco Houston's rendition, of course, because nothing could match Woody's best friend doing one of Woody's best lyrics... but it is a fine effort.

Now to the first disc, title "Sabotabby" and issued on a German label in 1998. Sabotabby Longer than their second effort, a dozen songs instead of ten, it is a bit less perfect. Same quintet, same instruments except for the addition of Uillean pipes played by Anj Daub. The first tune, "Smoke a Phatty" was composed by Daub and Gouthreau, but I found it offensive, albeit clever. Just quoting one line should be enough for the reader to decide if he'd like it better than I did: "Smoke a phatty for Jesus, smoke a phatty for the Lord."

Track Two is the thing that brought Sabotabby to my attention at all, via the Cisco website. The group does its interpretation of the Depression-era hobo song, "Beans, Bacon and Gravy." Cisco did not write it, but he put it out on a Folkways LP called "Songs of the Open Road" in the late '50's, and no one has done it better. The Sabotabby version fails to match Cisco's as well, but just the fact that the group found the song and liked it well enough to record it shows that the members have good taste and good sense. Track Three is the old Merle Travis coal-mining classic, "Dark as a Dungeon" with lead vocal by Eric Lackey, and I enjoyed it very much. The next item is a Glenn Edwards song, "Nothing But Fear" and that too, was quite nice. Track Five is an instrumental medley combining "Lafferty's" and "Knotted Cord" and "Maids of Mount Cisco". It is competent, but not compelling. Next comes a song stemming from a Welsh poem put to music by Pete Seeger, "The Bells of Rhymney." Pete's own version was a staple of his 1960's concerts, and Judy Collins also recorded a strong version of the song. Glenn Edwards' rendition does not quite rise to the levels achieved by Seeger and Collins, but if you have not heard those recordings, you'll find this one interesting, but somber.

The next two tracks, "Have Capital Will Travel" by Gouthreau and "Drive Henry Drive" by Edwards, reminded me a bit of The Pogues -- I could not understand all the words, or the point of the songs, yet enjoyed the musicality of them. Nice guitar work, especially on "Have Capital." Offering Nine has Anj Daub doing lead vocal of the traditional song "Paddy's Green Shamrock Shore." Nice job but it goes on too long, since it combines with the instrumental "Rolling Waves." The next selection is an instrumental medley, Sabotabby "Mug O' Brown Ale Set" but by this time on the CD, I was a bit tired of the Celtic instrumentals. Next to last is a song by Rodrigues called "Road Kill" -- just plain fun. This album ends with the song I like best, "Mary Ellen Carter" written by Stan Rogers, who I know nothing about. It is a shipwreck song with a comic sensibility, sung a cappella with Anj Daub doing the lead vocal. It seems lovely to me. It made me yearn for a CD release of one of the best LP's I ever bought, the 1973 National Geographic Records compilation "Songs and Sounds of the Sea." All in all, I'd give "Sabotabby" three-and-one-half stars in a five-star rating system, and the "Celtibilly" disc four-and-a-half. If the reader likes Celtic-flavored folk music with a few modern humorous touches thrown in, he or she should hunt these releases up via on-line auctions and add them to the collection.

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