3 LBS. OF RAGE REVIEW - Ceilli, Chuck Bloom

Ceili review: The Rogues – 3 Lbs. of Rage*
By Chuck Bloom
Performer Products Coordinator, North Texas Irish Festival

“Overnight sensations” never happen overnight, despite what you may see on “American Idol.” It takes years of practice, performing and sacrifice. But when it happens, the audience is the prime beneficiary of all the time and effort.

The Rogues, a well-known “regional” group (although its lineup consists mainly of Canadians) together for 16 years, has released its ninth album, “3 Lbs. of Rage,” and it wouldn't be far to say it’s the finest effort this band has ever produced, and one of the best Celtic rock albums in many moons.

The heart of the group is lead singer Nelson Stewart, who also plays piano, electric bass and acoustic guitars, accordion, mandolin – you name it. The album was recorded in his basement studio (Mayhem Studios) at his home in Hamilton, Ontario.

“In some ways, it is my Magnum Opus,” he said. “I’ve been playing Celtic music for 20 years and this album is the culmination of all those years. I was finally able to bring together all the various elements of Celtic music I’ve learned, including the various instruments and styles; plus the Rogues finally have the line-up of fantastic musicians who could pull it all off.  “To me, the Rogues have become one of the shining examples of NAFTA.”

There are many Celtic rock groups employing a bagpiper, but the Rogues use two excellent pipers (Lyric Todkill and Doug MacRae) along with drummer Randy Wothke, fiddler Corey Walden and bassist Tyson Kipfer. 

To place a specific label on The Rogues’ new album would be incorrect; it showcases a complete range of Celtic music – from songs done by a great pub band (“Andrew Duthart/Clumsy Lover” and “Panda”) to the ethereal “Enya”-esque tones (“The Gael”).  “The Deuce” uses the Scottish pipes and Scottish snare drum to summon images of the Black Watch, “Sommertime” is Wothke’s original lovely melody that is an obvious love song without the words and “The Wish” is Todkill’s excellent solo effort.

The album opens terrifically with a bagpipe fanfare (“Dawning of the Day”) blending perfectly into the rocking “Winnipeg Forger,” showing why two pipers are better than one.
Most of the “songs” (save for the oft-recorded and popular “South Australia,” using the Pogues’ arrangement) are love songs, or so it seems, all written by Stewart.  “I’ve always had a problem writing an out-and-out love song for fear of the cheese factor,” he said. “That’s why ‘She Walks on Water’ is dark, and ‘Hollow’ is an attack on myself. They’re all about different women I’ve known, although I often tell people that they were all written for my wife before I knew her.”

Stewart’s wife, Jeania, is the focal point of the one song that will remain with the listener long after the CD has ended. The traditional Welsh ballad, “Suo Gan,” a tribute to motherhood, is one of the pieces that evokes tears with the very first note. If it doesn’t, you need to see a cardiologist (you’ve got no heart).  Jeania Stewart, backed by her husband on piano and the two pipers, delivers a sterling rendition – an absolute showstopper (I’m sure) in concert.  “When we perform live, we go from rocking ‘Measure of a Man, to getting feet-stomping with ‘Andrew Duthart’, to making people cry with ‘Suo Gan,’” Stewart explained.

'3 Lbs. of Rage' ends with a strong non-love song, an angry protest Stewart wrote years ago.  “It’s about different kinds of weakness and I was railing against authority (I’ve always had a bit of a problem with bureaucrats and misplaced power),” he explained. “I proudly come from a hard-working family in a working class city. I had lost faith in most politicians and I was concerned about the way many of them seemed willing to sell us (Canadians) out. There is no indictment of the U.S.; I love your country deeply for everything it has given me. But I’ve always been concerned about Canada’s identity; I was worried at the time about people who would gladly give up what makes us who we are. I guess there is a certain degree of irony in the fact that I now perform in an American band.”

In the Southwest, they are best known in Houston (home turf for Wothke) and have played at past North Texas Irish Festivals. But the Rogues are continuing to make great strides in the world of Celtic music (not just rock music). Last December, the group won a major battle of the bands contest (from among 65 other groups) and earned a St. Patrick’s Day appearance at Las Vegas’ Monte Carlo Resort and Casino.  Around the same time, their instrumental recording of “Bonny Portmore,” (from the “Roguetrip” album) was included in the movie soundtrack for “The Irishman” with Christopher Walken and Val Kilmer. And the triad of good luck had the lads performing with the U.S. Air Force Symphony Orchestra at Washington, D.C.’s Constitution Hall.

In addition, the Rogues support U.S. military personnel, raising funds for wounded veterans through “Deakstock,” aiding the Air Force Aid Society, and Operation Ward 57 – the amputee ward at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Not bad for overnight sensations.

As for the album title, it’s the Stewarts’ own old blind dog – a 17-year-old Applehead Chihuaha named Si. According to the liner notes, “He’s Irish and has the heart of a lion… (and) he could kick your dog’s ass.”

As coordinator for Performer Products for the NTIF and recently-completed Cowtown Celtic Festival, I listen to many of the new musical efforts released within a 12-month period. I am here to testify on a stack of vinyl LPs that “3 Lbs. of Rage” is the best Celtic rock CD produced this year and one of the best Celtic “music” CDs … period!

Of course, I don’t want the dog to clamp onto MY leg…

*In October of 2012 The Rogues split.  Nelson Stewart and other members continued to perform as The American Rogues.  Randy Wothke and other musicians continued as The Rogues.  

Note: 6 members of the American Rogues recorded "3 LBS. of RAGE" while with the Rogues and it is now owned by the American Rogues.  Nearly all of the album was recorded at Nelson Stewart's studio in Canada by his engineer, a majority of the original music was written by Nelson and he recorded over 70% of the total tracks himself (including piano, lead and backing vocals, accordion, electric and acoustic guitar, bass guitar, mandolin, tenor drum, war drum, bodhran, harmonica, and keyboard), and the album cover is a photo of his dog taken by one of his musicians.  The album of the year award was for the American Rogues album, "3 LBS. of RAGE", and the group of the year award was won by 6 members of the American Rogues while performing with the Rogues.