Donegal X-Press
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Donegal X-Press

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"Review of "Stand Alone" by Mike Farragher"

Donegal X-Press, the locomotive Baltimore band that has made their name with punked-up jigs and reels that snagged them CD of the year with the Irish Voice back in 2001, has cast their eye on this side of the Atlantic for inspiration.
The music on their new disc, the triumphant Stand Alone, generates the same greasy heat that you’d find on a griddle diner located somewhere on Route 66. More in line with the Black Crowes than the Black Velvet Band, the tunes marinade in a Jack Daniels sauce that yields smoke wafting out of your speakers with each listen. Harmonicas scream through the alternative rock riffs and sweet fiddles to create a slick, roots rock experience.
“Devil In The Bottle” is the first song on Stand Alone, and it sports a tasty beer battered riff. “Take your olive branch/your four leaf clover/go chase your tail around the moon/where you are keep carrying on like that/somebody’s going to name your tune,” sings Brad Dunnells on the title track that seems like it just saw the light of day out of Springsteen’s "Tunnel of Love." A little trill of “America The Beautiful” ends this poignant track. Apart from the odd nick of a patriotic tune, the band borrows styles ranging from So-cal ska to the new country sensibilities of Lucinda Williams and Lyle Lovett to create an original American fabric.
“We are an Irish-American band from Baltimore, Maryland – the most North City in the South, as F. Scott Fitzgerald put it, and that whole statement says a lot,” says band member Jason Tinney. “We’ve never left here. The majority of the group is from here, and everyone has family that lives here. So more and more, as artists and performers, we are drawing from this region to write our songs. Boston and New York have their Irish roots. So do Maryland and Virginia and Pennsylvania. And being just below the Mason Dixon line, I think there is a natural lean toward a Southern roots/blues feel. That sound is there, but that’s just one face of the musical styles on the album.”
While at first listen, the band seems like it has moved away from the Irish vibe that made them a Baltimore club favorite, band members Brad Dunnells (guitar, vocals), Jason Tinney (harmonica, narration), Jeff Malcom (bass), Laura Hein (keyboard), Jeff Trueman (drums) and Skye Sadowski-Malcom (fiddle) feel that this is the best representation of Irish Americana that they have ever committed to tape.
Adds Tinney: “It’s very different from the other albums and on one hand, musically, it’s a departure from the 'Irish/Celtic Rock' genre, but that is only in terms of instrumentation and phrasing,” says Tinney, who has published a number of books of poetry along with lending a sharp pen to the DXP songbook. “Johnny Cash was asked once if he looked at Country and Rock and Roll as two different forms and he said no. You can’t put music into a box, categorize it. Styles can intermingle, reform and offer something different to people. "Devil in the Bottle" is a good example of the kind of song the band is looking to find – a hybrid. There is the rock and roll element combined with a blues feel and jig placed in the middle to take it somewhere else. And if that’s not enough we throw 'Whiskey You’re the Devil' in there just for good measure.”
DXP argues that even the CD title comes from their own unique take on Irish Americana. “After 9/11, Jason and I were performing in Ireland and I was surprised by the response certain residents had towards American foreign policy at the time," says Dunnells. “It puzzled me how at the beginning of the evening, we were criticized about a foreign policy we may or may not have agreed with. Nobody ever asked us our opinion - they just accused. Yet by the end of the night the same people had engaged us in a discussion about the righteousness of certain para-military organizations in the North of Ireland. I decided I would stand alone with both my opinions regarding either discussion.”
Indeed, the editorial pages of this fine paper are routinely peppered with feelings of opposing sides between the Yanks and native Celts on how to handle terrorism, and the band captures that tension in the gorgeous prose that runs throughout Stand Alone. But where is that whiplash fiddle and snarky pub view that fans have come to expect from DXP? They’ve got to get over it and move on. Some people in the band have already begun that process.
“As the fiddle player in the band, I actually enjoy playing some of these songs more than our others,” says fiddler “Sadowski-Malcom. “I actually don't think the harmonica in this album is any more prominent than in the last two, it's just that the style of music is a tad different & lends itself to more of a 'violin' sound, as opposed to that of a 'fiddle'. I think this is why I find it more interesting to play: it's a departure from more traditional fiddle elements, and a foray into using the violin/fiddle as a more contemporary layer of sound. For me, that's fun stuff!"
- The Irish Voice, NYC


"Review of Quinn's Diaries"

The Donegal X-Press: the Sound of Baltimore is Celtic (Track 15) The Donegal X-Press combine the style of Irish music with the supreme London Calling of the Clash and the unrest of the Pogues; a music that we imagine listened to from cow-boy dreaming, but with the explicit lyrics of your sons. Their version of Tell Me Ma, that we present to you here [on the compilation CD], the confirmation, capturing brilliant reflections of the Irish style and leaving annoyed more of a native of Ireland: "[who] think that we are disrespectful" says Jason Tinney, harmonica player and leader of the band with Brad Dunnells, who believes that "to be Irish-American is not to be Irish enough for the most traditional listeners". But the Donegal X-Press wants more: to make music theatrical. And Irish music lends itself to being theatrical, because most of the time, in the traditional Irish songs, the story is disproportionate: "[it] is always larger than life," adds Dunnells. Quinn' s Diaries, released in 2000, is the CD from which the piece in [our] compilation is taken, and offers the best Celtic Irish-American [sound], beat poetry and rock' n' roll bravado with the right enthusiasm, joined together with arrangements of rockabilly [and] traditional pieces. You will be able to ask for it on their web site together with the their new work: Stand Alone. At the moment the band has taken a break from performing live, but will return to the stage starting on the 12 of March [2005], unfortunately only in the United States.
(Translation by Skye Sadowski-Malcom)
- Celtic Rock Magazine, Itlay


"DXP named ARTIST OF THE YEAR 2000!!"

ARTIST OF THE YEAR

1. The Donegal X-Press' "Quinn's Diaries": "our music is really, in all honesty, old music. It's the music of Ireland and America. It's wide-open spaces and stone crosses. It's East Coast harbors in the early 1900s, but it's also Kentucky Bourbon, a 70s baby blue convertible Cadillac, cowboys and Indians, Coca-Cola and twizzlers. We are still trying find how all of that fits together." That's how guitarist Brad Dunnels describes the sound of his band, the Donegal X-Press. Does he really believe this trite diatribe, or is he just pulling our collective leg here? You never know, and this tongue-in-cheek tone of the lyrics within the notes of Quinn's Diaries always keeps you guessing. After slogging through the bags of CDs that arrived at the Irish Voice offices this year, I can confidently say that no one is producing music that's more exciting or original than this Baltimore-based band. This outfit changes musical styles like socks on Quinn's Diaries. I haven't heard a band mix punk, rock, and jazz this well since the Replacements called it quits. Biting beatnik poetry wafts over a furious bodrhan beat on "12 Round Knockout." The traditional nugget "Tell Me Ma" is reworked in the hands of the group; the old melody is sped up to warp speed and it helps tell the story about chasing underage girls on Bainbridge Avenue. "Irish is as Irish does/I like my peaches without fuzz." Indeed. The X-Press run the gamut of great drunken singsongs ("Pissed Off Paddy Barman," "Raise Your Glasses") and political commentary ("Omagh") in their repertoire. They call the Baltimore bar Mick O'Shea's their home, and they use the watering hole to test the boundaries of Irish music on their rabid fan base. They sometimes splinter off to form side projects that add a creative fuel to the goup's engine. Dunnells and vocalist Jason Tinney combine spoken word poetry, Irish ballads and original compositions in the genre of the "sheanachai," or story teller. On any given night, the Wayfarers will treat the audience to a grab bag of Irish, rock, folk, blues or Jazz in a laid-back atmosphere. Lyle Hein (bass player) has formed his own band, ominously known as the Sheepshaggers. With a name like that I GOTTA hear what this sounds like. What does that say about me? The Donegal Xpress has an exciting 2001 planned. Brad and Lyle recently went into the studio with local hip-hop producer Hugh Harrell to lay down some possible tracks for the next Donegal X-Press album. Once some ideas are sifted through, the entire band will begin recording in January.
- Irish Voice, NYC


Discography

Father O'Leary Memorial Boys Club - 2006
Stand Alone - 2004
Translations - 2001
Quinn's Diaries - 1999
Whiskey Bars A Go-Go - 1998

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Bio

The Donegal X-Press has emerged as one of the premiere Irish-American roots rock groups in the country. This high-energy six piece outfit has gained praise and fans from New York to Ireland, Baltimore to Nashville and beyond. DXP blends a unique combination of traditional Irish music with American country and blues, folk and rock, rhythm and funk, which John O'Regan of "Roots Magazine" calls, "...creative ferocity not seen since The Clash's 'London Calling' period."
Brad Dunnells (guitar and vocals) and Jason Tinney (harmonica and vocals) began collaborating and writing songs in the late 1990s with the hope of rejuvenating Irish American culture. With this partnership, the Donegal X-Press was formed and it wasn't long before the band's populatiry and musical dimensions began to grow.
In the years since its formation, the group has gone from boozy bar crowds to sharing the stage with artists such as The Saw Doctors, Prodigals, Solas, Graham Colton, Black 47 and the Wolfe Tones. DXP has also written and produced five albums of original music: "Fr. O'Leary Memorial Boys Club", "Stand Alone", "Translations, "Quinn's Diaries", and "Whiskey, Bars, A Go-Go". In 2000, the "Irish Voice" (NYC) named the group among their "Best of 2001" and eventually dubbed them "Artist of the Year." In that same year, Brad Dunnells was the first American to win the National Song Contest for Peace held in Cork, Ireland. The 1st place winner, "Omagh," is featured on "Quinn's Diaries". In 2001, Donegal X-Press was named "Best Band" in the "Baltimore City Paper's" Readers Poll.
In addition to performing with the Donegal X-Press, the multi-talented individuals who make up the group have many side projects. Jeff Malcom (bass) and Skye Sadowski-Malcom (fiddle/vocals) co-founded and perform with the Annapolis-based group Man Down, while Jeff Trueman (drums) performs with the band Pale Stars, also native to Baltimore. Laura Hein (keyboard) is also a solo pianist and accompanist who performs throughout Maryland. Along with singer/songwriter Laura Cosner, Dunnells and Tinney founded the folk trio The Wayfarers, while Tinney has published two books of short stories and poetry-prose (Hilliard & Harris Publishers).