Dirty Linen
August/September 2003

The Reel World - Small-Label Celtic and English Music
by Tom Nelligan

Finally, no Reel World column would be complete without some tooth-loosening Celtic folk-rock, and the Texas quartet called the Churn fills that role impressively this month. Big Buttah [Buttah Productions BP101 (2002)], the bands first release, is full of intense, turbulent instrumental music, a rocking set of traditional jigs, reels, and Renaissance dances featuring Mitch Lawyer's sharp-cutting electric mandolin and Jim Mackenzie's howling electric guitars in skillful improvisational flights. Their free-flowing arrangements of tunes like "Rakish Paddy" and Nonesuch" seem to combine the influence of pioneering American folk-rock bands like Tempest, classic Southern guitar rockers like the Allman Brothers, and jam bands like Phish. It's full of sound and fury, and fun all around.

August 2003

THE CHURN – “Big Buttah” CD ’03 (Private, US) – Man, talk about a kewl surprise! I saw a little article about THE CHURN in Dirty Linen magazine and they were being described as a pretty cool instrumental Celtic rock band so I figured I’d drop ‘em a line. The thing is, after getting the CD in the mail and playing it all the way through the 1st time, I felt like I’d just listened to a brand new instrumental Wishbone Ash album!!! Really, this is THAT good!!! THE CHURN is composed of Mitch Lawyer (4 & 5 string electric mandolin), Jim Mackenzie (6 & 12 string electric guitar), John Palmer (bass) & Scott Washburn (drums). I was especially amazed by the sound of the electric mandolin on this album. It has a sound that is very much in the electric guitar family and the way Mitch and Jim play together, I swear to God reminds me of the sounds evoked by Andy Powell & Ben Granfelt (or Ted Turner, in the old days) of the mighty ‘Ash. The really interesting thing here is that all the songs contained on this CD are traditional Irish or American tunes, really old vintage stuff. Somehow, THE CHURN takes these and completely gives them a different feeling to the point that, if you think about it, you understand the songs origins, but they have the vitality of brand new material all the same. In a sense, this becomes an album of original material, because the band have found a way to take trad stuff and make it completely their own. If you like Wishbone Ash stuff like “Jailbait,” “Blowin’ Free” or “Vas Dis,” I swear to God, this stuff is right up there with it and you would LOVE it!!! At the same time, I don’t want to make it sound like these guys just sound exactly like one of my favourite bands. They really do have their own style, which unfolds more & more on each repeated listen and the nuances of the Celtic material and the mandolin lines spread their addictive tendrils through your ears & brain. Honestly, I can’t think of the last time I was so utterly & pleasantly surprised by an album being so much more & different than I’d anticipated. Not only those into Celtic rock by far, but any kind of melodic hard rock guitar fans (& especially those into W. Ash) should grab this immediately. One of the year’s best!

Pay The Reckoning
February 2003

The Churn - Big Buttah (Buttah Productions BP101)

Texas trad-rockers, The Churn (named after the potent jig, Hag At The Churn, made popular by The Bothy Band), combine a range of Southern rock styles with Irish, Scottish and American traditional music, in the process giving us one of the more entertaining CDs of the past few years. The nearest reference point is Horslips; the band lack the soaring keyboards of the 'Slips but otherwise they combine similar instrumentation with an ability to use tunes as launching points for musical flights of fancy. Their improvisations may take us on a journey some miles from the tunes on which they are based, but they're never self-indulgent or meandering.

Their ability to take a tune apart and explore nuances via extemporised variations means that although the track listing throws up some familiar names (e.g. Hag At The Churn, Rakish Paddy, The Congress Reel, Say Old Man), you shouldn't expect a standard reading of the tunes. Some will, of course, roll their eyes heavenwards and mutter darkly into their beards at the very suggestion of traditional music given the Southern rock treatment. However, take it from Pay The Reckoning, normally impressed only by a "pure drop" approach, The Churn's take on trad is exhilarating and brimming with charm.

The band's tongue-in-cheek motto is "Giving World Music the beating it deserves!". On the basis of this album, the band don't so much beat trad music as knead it and mould it into new forms. If the notion of such an approach appeals, then get your ears around some mp3s at http://www.the-churn.com or get in touch with the band at 18410 Hazycrest, Spring, TX 77379, USA and order up a copy of Big Buttah!
Pay The Reckoning February 2003

March 2003

The Churn
Big Buttah (Self-released)

Houstonians can now scratch another entry off the list of Cross-Pollinated Musical Genres We Thought We'd Never See. Taking their name quite literally, the members of the Churn have tossed quite a bit into Ye Olde Stir Pot and come out with a creamy product that can best be described as an electric instrumental psychedelic Celtic jam, equally perfect for your backyard St. Patrick's Day party or a 420 fund-raiser.

The Churn is a new side project of Flying Fish Sailor Mitch Lawyer (mandolin), with Jim Mackenzie on guitar, Jon Palmer on bass and ex-Zuzu's Petals pounder Scott Washburn on drums. The 13 tracks here are all traditional Irish jigs, reels and American fiddle tunes (with the odd Renaissance dance ditty thrown in) that have been infused with trippy Bonnaroo-style sheen.

"Hag at the Churn," "Frieze Britches" and "Say Old Man" are river-stepping rockers in the tradition of Irish rock bands like Lenahan. The '70s jam-friendly "June Apple," the very Irish "Arran Boat Song" and a Robin Trower-inspired "Cantiga 166" fairly reek of patchouli and hemp. The Churn also brings tinges of reggae ("Pastorelle") and jazz ("Pipe on the Hub") to the proceedings. Throughout, Lawyer and Mackenzie's stringed instruments grapple in a pub brawl, pushing the plucking into a frenzy. But there are some drawbacks to Big Buttah. More slow numbers would have helped the pacing of the all-instrumental format. Taken as a forum to expose traditional Celtic/Irish music to a nontraditional audience, this album does deliver. But it also runs the risk of sliding into novelty-act territory or becoming background music for dancing. Still, when you get the musical munchies, Big Buttah slathers pretty nicely on a slice of soda bread.

houstonpress.com | originally published: March 13, 2003

Pictures | Reviews | Shows | Buy a CD | mp3s | Links | Email