If you were to Google the phrase "great rock storytellers" you'd get... well, a list of useless garbage. But, if you were to ask me, I would probably give you a list of names like Pete Townshend, Shane MacGowan, Bob Dylan, Roger Waters, Neil Young... and I would then find some way to include the names of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Willie Nelson because, although they are not rock storytellers, they are probably the greatest American musical storytellers of all time - and their influence of those listed previously is undeniable.
When it comes to local musicians, there aren't many who can match the enticingly dark, edgy and wonderfully engaging musical storytelling of Voodoo Loons in their new album The Criminal Ear.
At the heart of Voodoo Loons is Chris Hooks (bass), Bill McCarthy (drums) and Dennis O'Hagan (guitar & vocals) who lay claim to both Cincinnati and Wexford, Ireland as their home towns. It is that delightful synergy of American moxie and Irish wit that makes their songs so attractive and intriguing.
Musically, Hooks, McCarty and O'Hagan are equally adept at intense multi-dimensional psychedelic explorations as they are at simple, folksy tunes that harken to O'Hagan's Celtic roots. I was simultaneously reminded of latter-day Pink Floyd (Learning to Fly) and Harvest Moon-era Neil Young. Throughout The Criminal Ear, the Loons are joined by their friends Mark Daly on mandolin, Brad Wehlitz on guitar, Mike Sokolowski on piano and Rob Mulhauser on horns. These additional layers of sound lend a polish and shine to the near-stream-of-consciousness approach to songwriting that O'Hagan utilizes.
Lyrically, the storytelling aspect of the Loons' material is most evident in tracks like "Nothing Happens in Wexford," the deliciously macabre "In a Locket" and "Jesus Cut His Hair" - a song that speaks to the artist and dreamer inside all of us - and that is the magic of the songwriting. The themes are deeply insightful yet universal. Even if we haven't experienced some of these events personally, the language is so precisely chosen that we can't help but find a little piece of ourselves in the story.
The Voodoo Loons are known for their unconventional live shows - often choosing to play festivals and events (on both sides of the Atlantic) as opposed to bar and small club gigs. However, one should always expect the unexpected. They may play a largely acoustic set or they may start ofF the show with an amplifier that bursts into flames (i.e. the 2006 MidPoint Music Festival).
Either way, please seek out The Voodoo Loons as they support their new album The Criminal Ear and experience great musical storytelling for yourself.