The Killdares Steal The Sky
Steal The Sky, released on the Crimson Clover label, marks the sixth studio release from veteran Texas outfit The Killdares. This eleven-song collection finds them still adventurous and moving forward at a time when many regional powerhouses have long since faded from the scene. Much has changed since the band’s 1996 formation. The Killdares’ once unique synthesis of Celtic, country, and rock is not so unique in 2014. Countless bands from Los Angeles to London have formed bands mixing traditional instrumentation like fiddle or mandolins, as examples, with a guitar/bass/drum rock configuration with varying results. In the wake of nearly two decades worth of bandwagon jumping, it is alone impressive that The Killdares are still with us, let alone writing some of their finest material yet.
The surging optimism of “Hand In Mine” makes for a fantastic opener. This track and a number of others on the album make clear the fact that, whatever greater artistry The Killdares wield, the band never forgets that music possesses a powerful capacity to elevate and entertain. The up-tempo dialogue between fiddle, guitar, bass, and drums crackles with energy and urgency. Singer and drummer Tim Smith has a voice with wonderfully clarity and its youthful hue is entirely appropriate for the song. The instrumental “Lion Ring” finds bassist Gary Thorne latching onto a supple melodic groove that renowned fiddle player Roberta Rast illuminates with color and grace.
Some strains of country music, particularly vocal mannerisms, creep into the wonderfully titled “Sometimes The Night Is Wrong”. It ranks as one of Smith’s best vocals on the album with its sensitive phrasing of fine lyrics. As strong as the album’s first half is, the second half is stronger and opens with the confident mid-tempo rocker “10 Tons”. Tight chemistry drives the band performance and Smith delivers an authoritative vocal that never falls into predictability. If “Borrowed Wings” isn’t a musical highlight for everyone, there can be little disagreement that The Killdares stretch their sound and approach here with a much deeper theatrical air. The band conjures vivid atmospherics and the deeply literate songwriting gives Smith a lot to work with vocally.
The acoustic charms of “Setting Suns” are considerable. Tight songwriting is key to fending off cliché and it begins with the band’s focused approach. The fact that not one song exceeds five minutes and the album boasts eleven songs without ever playing tired is an impressive achievement. “Setting Suns” is a good example of the variety distinguishing this album. Unlike earlier songs, it takes an acoustic approach that gives the tune an added veneer of intimacy. There is no dross here, not a note in excess.
The finale, “Love Brews”, ranks with “Hand In Mine” as another ultimately reaffirming take on timeless human experience. A real exuberance in the band’s playing points towards the burning heart of The Killdares’ continued appeal. They write, record, and perform music that engages the heart and body alike. This is music played in the center of the world, in the middle of life, never holding itself above the listener or flirting with obscurity.
J. Hillenburg. Approved by Cyrus Rhodes