Review by Jo Poidevin from On the Street, 1 March 1989.
ROARING JACK: The Cat Among the Pigeons (Mighty Boy) LP
The Pogues? Not likely, though ‘Playing for the Traffic’ does share a drum pattern with ‘Sally MacLennane’. But Roaring Jack do not sound at all like MacGowan’s mob, even if they do play ‘Dirty Old Town’ live, wield a piano-accordion and other traditional instruments and are fronted by a fine Celtic rasp of a voice. Roaring Jack sound like Roaring Jack, which is something we should get sorted out here, because it isn’t always a good thing.
Musically, this record is as agreeable a corner-pub knees-up as you’d want, it’s when Roaring Jack start waxing political that it gets a bit much. Which is not to say they’ve got the wrong end of the ideological stick – if a better metaphor for revolutionary socialism than ‘A cat among the pigeons’ exists, I haven’t heard it. And I agree with them on most things. But songs like ‘The Thin Red Line’ and ‘Lads of the BLF’ are sanctimoniously self-congratulatory, sweeping and a bit simplistic. The best political songs are the ones that are personal rather than sermonising (Bragg’s ‘Between the Wars’) or that ask questions rather than telling you the answers (Midnight Oil’s ‘Hercules’). It’s probably not fair to go on about this too much, because after several hearings (and I didn’t like it at all the first time), this is really my only complaint. Alastair [sic] Hulett writes a great drinking song (‘Uisge Beatha’ the record’s highlight) and Steph Miller’s two contributions reveal a movingly maudlin spirit of place and melancholy.
A not-bad album. Possibly even a great one if you don’t mind a spot of political moralising. Somebody has to say these things, I suppose, but there’s other ways to skin (fat) cats than by serving up ready-to-wear beliefs.
Roaring Jack – Whisky priests and electric folk. One hand on the bottle, t’other on the Little Red Book and preaching, sadly, to the converted. And destined to do so until they start asking rather than telling.
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