The Phantom Tollbooth
May 1999 Pick of the Month

The Land, the Bread, and the People
Artist: Ballydowse
Label: Grrr Records
Length: 13 tracks / 55:28

I've been waiting for this album since 1990, which is when I first heard "Bloody Lane" on Crashdog's first album, a song (written by Glenn Kaiser) that paired Crashdog's '80s punk with Scottish bagpipes. The combo of those two earthy musics struck a chord that I've been dying to have plucked again ever since.

Now, almost a full decade later...Ballydowse. More than just punk-with-bagpipes, Brian Grover and Andrew Mandell of Crashdog have pulled out a big bag of Irish, East European Jewish folk, and Aboriginal sounds and strewn them across their foundation of Oi!-influenced street-punk, to make for one heckuva unique rock album. The loose and scrappy guitars, more rock but still resonating with Crashdog's boot-stomping attitude, mix beautifully with a mish-mash of Celtic, Klezmer, and Australian Aborigine instruments that include mandolin, bodhran, moohran, percussion, violin, didgeridoo, bullroarer, and whirligig. And the vocals! Everything from solos to two and three-part group singing to passionate gang shouts, with the wavering-with-emotion sandpapery singing by Andrew and clear pseudo-Celtic tones from his wife Robin being most characteristic of Ballydowse's sound.

Eight members make up the band (and supposedly one killer live show), but guests like Tony Krogh (pipes; The Crossing), Bryan Gray (bass & guitar; Left Out, The Blamed, etc.), and Brian Moss ("Uptown Tibetan throat singing") make the total eleven. Needless to say with such a large band, making money is not one of Ballydowse's motivations. Their music is made to convict and awaken.

Everything about The Land, the Bread, and the People--from the packaging to the artwork and the songwriting--gives glory to God by virtue of its surpassing excellence. Surprisingly (since Steve Albini recorded), only the production falls a bit short. There's a dirtiness that suits the music but keeps your nose in the lyrics booklet half the time because of hard-to-hear vocals. That's actually a blessing, though, because the lyrics are meaty poetry that beg for contemplation. For example, "Bleak":

         Looking out through the grey haze I see the other side
         The wondrous silhouettes must mean
         some fair light is there behind
         so no matter the length or dark of the night
         till dawn I can hold
         then I will dance through the rays and breathe in the hope
         and open up my soul

I can't get enough of rich word tapestries like these! The gang vocals on songs like "Walkin' On" are doubly invigorating and powerful as they shout out what sounds like words of rebuke for lukewarm Christians:

         We're walking on and we won't wait
         for you to suss what we're gonna do.
         Debating inaction but it's too late,
         hands to the plow and we ain't turning back.
         Left you standing at the crossroads,
         you're the solution but you are stuck on hold.
         The world we change is the world we touch,
         Never do nothing if you talk too much.

The Jesus People USA community life of self-denial and love that the members of Ballydowse have chosen to live shines brightly through their songs and music. My heart and soul swells every time I listen to the album. It's the  song of the clan which is my own, a band of pilgrims following the light through dark lands, holding each other up and lifting the fallen by the roadside as they pass, voices chanting together the songs of  the journey's joy and struggle.

Josh Spencer    (4/28/99)

Whoa Nellie! Did you hear the rumor that JPUSA moved the Blarney Stone to Chicago? Probably not true, but it's curious that this small, devoted community of faithful American Christians are so fascinated with the music of the Green Isle that they now sport two bands with a distinctively Irish sound. The Crossing was the first, and far and away the more traditional of the two. The latest is Ballydowse and features founding members of Grrr Record's punk band Crashdog. Consequently, The Land, The Bread, and the People is a bit like Crashdog meets The Crossing, or even a punked-out version of Black 47, where both Irish and Scottish sensibilities are hopped up to electrifying speeds via gritty rock channels. And that's before you consider their musical excursions to Israel and the Australian outback. Literate, intelligent, and inspirational lyrics are delivered in a high-octane manner inspiring hearty jig moshing. Thoroughly unique and energized, this is another kind of rock worth a welcoming kiss.

Steven S. Baldwin 4/29/99

 One of the most original albums to hit the CCM market since Burlap to  Cashmere.  This is an amazing clash of Celtic meeting punk.  With a wide  range of  Celtic and Australian Aborigine instruments that include mandolin, bodhran, moohran, percussion, violin, didgeridoo, bullroarer, and whirligig this group not only manages to carry this off on the album but  are even better live.  The only drawback to this release is that the music  is so varied you need to work at getting into all the diversity found here.

 Shari Lloyd (5/16/99)