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The Decemberists - The Tain CD (album) cover


The Decemberists


Prog Folk

3.77 | 24 ratings

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3 stars Colin Meloy takes his own stab at the 2,500 year-old story of Táin Bó Cúailnge with this 2004 release EP. This is an unusual record in that it consists of a single, unbroken eighteen and a half minute track. This was released in Spain between the band’s second and third studio albums. Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla produced this and the band’s subsequent ‘Picaresque’ release, and does a great job of drawing out the band’s creative side and harnessing their instrumental experimentation into a cohesive effort.

This isn’t as faithful or comprehensive a telling of the story of the Táin as Horslips managed on their album of the same name thirty years prior, but it is interesting in the difference of approach. While Horslips intended to deliver a respectful and accurate retelling of the tale, the Decemberists are only interested in the story as a colorful and ancient literary work. I don’t see or hear any evidence they approached this with any sense of cultural reverence or anything like that, although considering Meloy comes from an area of Montana, U.S.A. that has a heavily Irish population, it is certainly possible that this is a story he learned as a child. More likely though he picked up on this while studying literature in college, and this would be consistent with the many other literary works he has morphed into indie-prog classics.

The Decemberists version of the tale became somewhat notorious when the lyric “she’s a salty little pisser with your cock in her kisser” was used to paint a picture of the queen Medb. Probably not historically accurate, but certainly colorful.

This version also strays from the older Horslips version by presenting a much more abstract view of the story, with some lyrics seeming to take a great deal of literary license. Musically this is a bit off-kilter at times as well, such as in the third stanza where the glockenspiel, Hammond organ, and accordion make this sound more like a Jewish klezmer polka than an Irish jig. There is also quite a bit of very indie-sounding vocal/rhythm interplay, especially toward the end, that perhaps takes just a bit away from the mystique of the story.

But in the end this is a very engaging bit of music that has been well-received by the band’s fans, and brings awareness to an ancient and fascinating story that might otherwise have languished a bit longer in the folk cloisters of Irish traditionalists. And I think that’s what Meloy’s goal tends to be when he drudges some of these old stories up and reinvents them as modern folk music. And good for him; a very decent effort, not essential, but good nonetheless. Three stars and well recommended.


ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |


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