Review: “If the Skies Be Ablaze” by Sligo Rags


Ingenuity and the ability to meld several genres into one musical masterpiece are what catapult Sligo Rags into the stratosphere of excellent acoustical acts. Amazing musicians in their own right, Michael Kelly, David Burns, Jonathan Baer, and Eli Marcus together, however, are a tour de force of musical energy. The power of each performance with jazz-like solos and inventive arrangements captures the listener’s attention and will have their audience humming these melodies long after the performance is over. Their latest album, If the Skies Be Ablaze, is yet another compilation of breathtaking arrangements. Each of these traditional tunes and songs is given Sligo Rags’ unique treatment to make them fresh and relevant to today’s multigenre audience.

“Limehouse Blues / I'll Tell Me Ma,” “Ragtime Annie / Waxie's Dargle” and “Black Velvet Band / Foggy Mountain Breakdown” are perfect examples of this style. For instance, “Limehouse Blues / I'll Tell Me Ma” combines a popular 1922 British song written by the London-based duo of Douglas Furber and Philip Braham with a traditional Irish children’s song. The song starts with a rhythmic guitar and bass and then soon adds an overlay of a melodic fiddle with driving percussion. While the song has been recorded countless times by various artists and remains in the standard jazz repertory, Sligo Rags manage to truly make it their own by combining more of a folk style of playing while managing to keep key jazz ingredients, like solos that the band throws around to each other shifting seamlessly and a constant driving rhythm. Thus, when it suddenly shifts to the melody of “I Tell Me Ma” it just works and seems a natural progression. Likewise, “Ragtime Annie / Waxie's Dargle” does the same with a traditional bluegrass fiddle tune and a traditional Irish folk song about two ladies from Dublin discussing where they are going to get money for an outing. Finally, “Black Velvet Band / Foggy Mountain Breakdown” joins an Irish song about being incarcerated and transported to a penal colony with a classic bluegrass instrumental written in 1949. Yet, in each of these, Sligo Rags blends the genres amazingly well, showing the audience that simply, music is music.

Nevertheless, there are numerous tracks for the traditionalist. The album starts with “The Night Visit” being played slow and solemn. However, it quickly picks up the energy as it tells the story of a soldier visiting a young lady. Filled with numerous solos, the song maintains its tone of mystery mirroring the tale it tells. Additionally, there is the sad allegorical tale written by Tommy Makem, “Four Green Fields,” the lively song of “Reilly’s Daughter,” as well as “Bold O’Donohue” and “The Rare Auld Times.” While each of these songs stick closer to their roots, the musicianship exhibited in each truly sets them a world apart.

In short, If the Skies Be Ablaze is an album that truly should be in every music lover’s collection. The blending of numerous genres, the arrangements, and the sheer energy of their performance make it an absolute five star musician’s buffet.

Artist: Sligo Rags

Buy Album: If the Skies Be Ablaze

Stephen Mc Sweeney is a High School English/Drama teacher.  Besides writing for the Celtic MP3s Music Magazine, he enjoys acting, writing and playing Celtic music.  He can be seen as one of the members of the band Terrible Musicians, where he plays percussion and mandolin.


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