Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Steel City Rovers Have Talent. Who Cares Whether They Win The HMA?

Don't doubt me. I want The Steel City Rovers to win the Hamilton Music Award. They're freakin' good, not just because they make good music, but because they are FUN to watch. They know what it means to put on a show. We have yet to see the best of what this group will produce.

I suspected I was in for a treat when I headed down to the Baltimore House to see the Rovers. They were one of the dozens of showcased bands who were given gigs at local venues as part of the Hamilton Music Awards festival. Tonight the Baltimore House was hosting the "Ethnic/World Recording of the Year" category to which the Rovers belong.

Ryan McKenna is a many-talented front man. He loves the stage, the audience, and the show. He showed his genius in banter, in charisma, in dancing, and of course in song. Brother Joel, in terms of talent, is Ryan's equal. But it's expressed through superb backup vocals and rhythm guitar.

Mark Fletcher plays, well, everything. A seasoned veteran, he can be seen switching from guitar to mandolin to Scottish Smallpipes to tin whistle. He anchors the group in its Celtic roots. On fiddle and backup vocals is Dave Neigh.  And with the happiest, sunniest expression on her face the whole night long, "quiet but ferocious" Jess Gold kept the beat on drums.
Jess Gold

The Steel City Rovers have carved out a healthy place within a genre that is both strict and forgiving.

Musical forgiveness was easy to grant when they played an extremely funky version of a tune. The freedom of being able to blend styles, musical idioms, and beats with alternate instrumentation is remarkable. No need to try to be "pure" when the world's smorgasbord of music is enticing and tempting you in so many ways.

The test of authenticity came near the end of the set. The Steel City Rovers performed an a capella song with multiple verses and vocal harmonies that reminded me of an Irish pub song. My experience of Celtic bands isn't all-encompassing by any means, but I remember the Poor Angus concert back in September at Oktoberfest. I learned that, first, these pub songs have at least ten verses. Second, they tell a story about the life and feelings of the common man. Third, they are done a capella, which means without accompanying instruments and freely blending vocal harmonies.

When the Rovers were singing their "a capella" tune near the end of their set, the room fell silent.

The band had the room spellbound. That's worth a half-dozen Hammys!

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