Album Review: The High Kings’ Friends for Life

hk-friends-for-life-cd-300x300A week from Monday, we see the return of St. Patrick’s Day, the day that everyone gets to either celebrate their Irish heritage, or pretend they have one.

What St. Pat’s Day celebration would be complete without some rousing Irish music to go along with it? Sure, the Celtic Woman recordings have been popular, but let’s be honest. Their music just doesn’t have that Irish pub feel that the occasion calls for. So as an alternative, we bring you The High Kings, and their latest album Friends for Life.

The High Kings is a talented quartet of Irish musicians with a healthy dose of contemporary influences added. Their stated motto: “Folk ’n Roll”. Friends for Life is their fourth album since their 2008 inception; and their third studio album. Released last September, it is a collection of original music combined with a few traditional songs spiced with their special arrangement skills.

The opening track is “Oh Maggie”, an original song about a man on hard times and trying to do better so he can return to the woman he loves. It’s traditional sounding, but with electric guitars and a drum set added to update the sound. Following is a strong departure; “Gucci”. This is a borderline stream of conscience song with Paul Simon-esque metaphors.

“All Around the World” takes us back to more familiar territory, with an upbeat feel-good dance song. It is, admittedly, the least Irish sounding song on the album; it almost sounds Cajun. It’s not surprising, then, that they follow it up with the first traditional Irish song on the album, “Johnny Leave Her”. This is an a capella arrangement, with each of the quartet featured on the verses, and harmony on the chorus.

“Health to the Company” is another traditional piece, given a folk rock accompaniment. It’s a Irish blessing drinking song, that is both upbeat and laborious. This is followed by a cover of Steve Earl’s “Galway Girl”. This has a more traditional accompaniment, and tells the story of a ill-fated encounter with a dark-haired girl.

Along the same thematic thread is the traditional “Peggy Gordon”; a very simple arrangement, featuring only a solo banjo accompaniment to vocal harmonies, with a simple whistled interlude between verses. Then we’re back to original music with “High”. This is the kind of song I could see someone like Garth Brooks do a cover of at some point. It’s very folk-rocky with a contemporary country sensibility.

Next is a light-hearted sea shanty styled song called “Ireland’s Shore”. It’s about a man looking to make his fortune on a sea voyage that isn’t what he expected. This is followed with the original “Come With Me Now”. It’s a sweet, simple love song about a man who meets a woman, and his offer to help her.

Next is a rowdy military ditty called “McAlpine’s Fusiliers”. It’s a tongue-in-cheek story about the hard life of a particularly rough-necked army unit. We are then given the title track, “Friends For Life”. It’s an upbeat anthem to loyalty and friendship.

“Musicmakers” follows about the life of a musician from childhood to their destiny as an entertainer and encourager through his art. Finally, we have “Keg of Brandy”, a contemporary folk song along the style of James Taylor.

Over all, this is an excellent updating of the Irish folk sound. Sometimes it strays from the formula to the point that the only thing that makes it sound Celtic is the inclusion of some of the standard instruments. But even when the music doesn’t sound Irish (which isn’t often), the sensibilities of the music from the Emerald Isles is present. When it’s upbeat it make the feet move, and when it’s down there is a bittersweet undercurrent, not overwhelming, but enough to make you want another shot of whiskey and sing along.

On a scale of 1-10:
Art rating – 8 1/2
Entertainment rating – 9