Given St. Louis' deep Irish roots and love for rousing drinking songs, it's a wonder a band like Rusty Nail hasn't surfaced sooner. The septet plays an even split of rock & roll and Irish folk music, veering more toward the anthems of Flogging Molly than the boot-stomping Gaelic punk of Dropkick Murphys (though both bands, along with genre godfathers the Pogues, get a hat tip in the liner notes). Boozers, Bastards and Bards is the group's second effort, and at fourteen tracks it is a bit overstuffed with minor-key strummers that mine much of the same territory. The band, to its credit, doesn't pander with cheap sentimentality or boozy sing-alongs, though the dark tint of these songs can get a bit blinding at times.
Guitarist Alvan Caby is a fair vocalist and is supported ably by the band — the rhythm section brings a steely rock sensibility, while the fiddle and tin whistle add the appropriate set dressing; don't look for any virtuoso reels or jigs here. Chad Ross is a secret weapon, handling a few stringed instruments alongside the occasional accordion accompaniment. Songs like "Paper Kisses" show this mix at its clearest — the squeezebox carries the melody while acoustic guitar and mandolin strum colorfully along. These moments of well arranged, properly proportioned music show the discipline needed to keep a seven-person band in check.
The band's sounds are meant to evoke the Emerald Isle, but a few of Rusty Nail's better songs are more locally focused. "Deadbeat Daddy Docket Day" gives a slice-of-life scene from the family courts in Jefferson County. More striking is "Yadier Molina," which places the Cardinals machine-gun catcher amid a hero's lament; there are more than balls and strikes at play in this song. A few standards sneak in on Boozers: "Black Velvet Band" gives a much-needed burst of energy to the first half of the album (which is available on vinyl as well). "The Auld Triangle" drags a bit during the largely a cappella intro but improves after the tempo shifts away from an unsteady roll to a more comfortable rock beat. In any case, it's a tall order to cover a song that the Pogues perfected so devastatingly. But if you picture Rusty Nail in the band's ideal environment — a smoky pub when you're on the business end of a few pints — the album does its job of arguing for the importance of the barroom bard.—Christian Schaeffer
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