The Drovers

World of Monsters

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The Drovers' first album, World of Monsters, is a winningly vital blend of Celtic folk and urban rock. The Chicago sextet captures the communal spirit of celebration which drives much of Irish dance music. But they also incorporate the cynicism, the grit -- even the unpretentious "broad-shouldered" work ethic -- of their native city. The Drovers would later branch out into a number of wildly eclectic directions, but this album (which helped them build a rock-solid base of enthusiastically loyal fans in the Midwest) veers less from Celtic stylizations than many native Irish rockers. "Trad Reels" is just what the name suggests: a very traditional set of instrumental folk-dance reels. "When Fortune Spin Her Wheel" is a bittersweet folk ballad decorated with a gorgeously reverberating flute arrangement (a biting benediction for unfaithful friends, it's also the album's most beguiling poem). The lead track, "The Tantrum," is an adrenaline-pumping thrash-accordion instrumental. Even the least overtly Celtic tracks play like juiced-up jigs, disguising the familiar bouncy rhythms in ominously jangling guitar riffs. While the band is remarkably egalitarian, allowing all its players to take the spotlight at different times, the spiritual leader seems to be expert violinist Sean Cleland, who makes breakneck fiddling look easy. The band's inexperience and budgetary limitations are apparent on this 1992 CD -- the vocals are often poorly miked, and when they aren't they occasionally disintegrate into dictionless warbling. But that does little to dampen the enthusiasm the album presents and provokes.

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