(Gang of Hair Records, CD)
Yarrrgh! Sorry. I've just always wanted to say that. And in the case of Burlington's favorite swashbuckling, old-time bluegrass act The Jugtown Pirates of Lake Champlain, it seems more than appropriate. Yarrrgh! See, there I go again.
The band's reputation for sometimes frantic but always engaging shows is well earned and has garnered the Pirates a nice little following of landlubbers beyond the shores of our picturesque lake. But the true test for any great live band, seafaring or otherwise, is its ability to translate the frenetic energy of its performances into a reasonable facsimile on record. It's easier said than done. But with their self-titled debut, the Jugtown crew has done an admirable job and produced a worthy companion to those exciting concerts.
Often lost in the cacophony of the band's live antics is the technical ability of its members as musicians. While not virtuosic by any means, all handle their instruments dexterously. The clarity of the recording serves as evidence that, in addition to their considerable performing skills, these rapscallions can really play.
Mandolinist Paul "Mendelsohn" Girouard has terrific chops and lays down nimble licks throughout. Benjamin Strosberg scratches a mean washboard and tastefully locks in with Harlan Rollins' upright bass and Karel Jeremy "Peaches" William Hammond's equally upright washtub bass and jug. Beneath it all, guitarist Tobias Sebastian Sanchez-Mahan provides a superb rhythmic framework for the band to bounce, jig and reel through 12 catchy, well-arranged tunes.
The group's songwriting unabashedly borrows from The Grateful Dead; the influence of Jerry Garcia and David Grisman is apparent throughout. While it would be easy to dismiss such leanings as hero worship, or outright thievery - which, I suppose, would be appropriate for Pirates - they seem to come by their sound honestly. They also balance an obvious affinity for the Dead with irreverent lyric writing that probably owes more to Ween. The result is an energetic romp through deliciously quirky, psychedelic roots terrain they can call their own.
The Jugtown Pirates of Lake Champlain are now a force on the record, though the best way to experience the band is still to go out and see them live - preferably on a boat. Fortunately, the group will commandeer a Lake Champlain cruise ship and set sail this Friday to celebrate the release of their new disc, with the Jugtown Masquerade 4. Yarrrgh!