Emish – Sinners Make the Best Saints
2011’s third album from Celtic fusion outfit Emish stands as a crucial release in this band’s career. The New York based four piece are assuming a more clearly defined songwriting identity with each new release informed by traditional music, but never entirely beholden to its trappings. Emish use the elements of traditional Celtic folk as a jumping off point from which they manage to incorporate rock and pop music qualities into their songwriting, but the marriage is never incongruous. The twelve songs compromising Sinners Make the Best Saints are distinguished by highly literate writing, inventive arrangements, and substantive atmospherics that never sound like a band simply marking time and pandering to their audience. Instead, everything here serves a clear purpose. Bobby and Jennifer Curreri, along with Buffalo born Christy Halligan Brown, form the core of Emish, but they augment their chemistry with additional players on drums and bass who fill out Emish’s sound.
“Irish Ways and Irish Laws” opens the album with a highly theatrical bent. The ambient sounds of surrounding storms adds a little needed context for Emish’s storytelling here and the Curreris juxtapose their voices against each other in a dramatic way without ever risking hamfisted effects. The title track’s vocal is handled by Bobby Curreri with unobtrusive backing vocals and he does an exceptional job with this lean, unquestionable rocker. The fast pace and staccato guitar work never wastes a single note. “P Stands For Paddy” returns the band to more traditional footing and the contrast between the female voice here and Bobby Curreri’s voice on other recordings couldn’t be more pronounced or, ultimately, have a more pleasing effect. Halligan-Brown’s fiddle darts across the surface of the song matching the energy of the other players and bringing considerable color to the piece as a whole.
The instrumental “Julia Delaney” continues the traditional themes, but backs a bit off the gas pedal. Slowing things down affords the players an opportunity to layer things some more without being held in thrall to an amped up tempo and they respond accordingly. Halligan-Brown’s fiddle playing stands out again thanks to its lyricism, but she’s always a forceful player who can never be accused of approaching her instrument without a sense of purpose. The melodies she weaves over top of a tight and fluid rhythm section helps makes this song work. Halligan-Brown’s fiddle plays a much more supporting role on the track “Remember These Bones” and Bobby Curreri’s vocal really gets inside of this relatively dark lyric and makes it pay off for the audience. The album’s second to last number, “Glasses of Beer”, is a wonderful instrumental and the fiddle playing assumes some of the woozy, but garrulous, qualities one might associate with the song title. “Face of an Angel” concludes the release on a high note with its surging rock posture that the players carry off just well enough and never over-emphasize. Instead, listeners will feel much like the best material from Emish makes them feel – carried away by a musical moment and in good hands from the first note onward. Sinners Make the Best Saints shows a band continuing to evolve and this collection marks another high point in their careers.
9 out of 10 stars