...THAT'S ALL - The Blue Chieftains (Real O Mind)

The term "country rock" doesn't flow often or easy at the I-94 Bar. I've always preferred Grizzled Ol' Neil's electric moments and you could count the others that might figure in The Barman's sometimes limited aural universe on the fingers of, if not one hand, then probably two. The Johnnys were a good night out. Tex, Don & Charlie? Cool. Beasts of Bourbon? Fucked up and fine. Then this one landed in the disc player...

The term "country rock" and "New York City" are usually considered mutually exclusive. Of course, that's not true (shit, Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen were playing there the first time I hit the Apple in the mid-80s.) It's not a genre that you think of as being connected with The Continental, down on St Mark's Place, any more that you associate Country Music, Blues and Blue Grass with CBGBs, but the former was the home of the Blue Chieftains every Sunday night for a good part of the '80s. Wish I'd staggered in there, on the strength of this live disc.

The term "country rock" is inadequate to describe what's on this aluminium platter, the latest in a short but no miss series of releases from Geoff Ginsberg's Real O Mind label from Philadelphia. Who are the Blue Chieftains? A four-piece playing what might be more accurately described as "roots rock" ("rig rock" was their self-coined term for a rather timeless style; rooted in country but just as capable of rocking out.) Under the inspired leadership of vocalist-guitarist Tim Carroll, this is a band that by all accounts should have been out there on a major label. (Both parties were on talking terms, apparently, but it never came to be.)

This evidence, culled from a '90s reunion show at Coney Island High (half a block from the Continental Divide), shows the Chieftains to be the sum of their parts and capable of playing just about anything. From the good times, singalong romp of "I Think Hank Woulda' Done It This Way" to the bluesy, wired slide workout of "Shortcut" (with Carroll and lead player Stephen B. Antonakos really laying it on), this is unabashed greatness. You want country shuffle? "If I Could, I Would" fits the bill. "A Good Cry"? Inspires the same. Shit, there's a slew of covers (a downbeat Dylan's "She Belongs to Me", "Tequila" and "We're Going to Have a Real Good Time Together" which segues into "Personality Crisis".) There's even a rap song (the Antonakos-led "One Heart") but by then, you can forgive such a sin. The irony (and hard liquor) drips off a ragged song like "Lynyrd Young", where "Sweet Home Alabama" meets "Hey Hey My My", which I'll bet was recorded late in the night.

This was obviously a band reliant on Audience Participation. The liner notes tell the story of the Jagermeister Ritual, in which fans punctuate an extended "Minnie the Moocher" by stepping up, tilting their heads back and taking a shot, courtesy of drummer Mark Horn (who, by now, has left his stool to administer the said spirit.) For brevity's sake, the Ritual is missing from this album (and with the sets extending to 50 songs this night, you can understand a lot of tuneage ended up on the studio cutting room floor.) This is, however, a live album where you can FEEL the vibe of the crowd as they hoot, holler and generally have a blast. The production is as sharp as can be, too. Great ambience.

"Country rock" can be played seriously or it can be done for laughs, but forget the redundant tags. Grab this thing and turn it up. It cooks. - The Barman