Rackhouse Pilfer are the newest word-of-mouth phenomenon to come out of Connacht in the last few years. Based in Sligo, the sextet has been gaining popularity and acclaim for the quality of their live gigs, clocking in an impressive four solid hours on New Years Eve in Sligo’s Fifth-on-Teeling club. Their debut album Back to the Country showcases the bands considerable talent in the bluegrass and Americana style. Such is the ease with which they harness and control the genre, it is surprising to learn they did not in fact grow up in the swamps of Louisiana, but rather the damp and blustery North West of Ireland.
While the band has gone through several transformations in terms of its members since its initial incarnation in 2012, most notably the departure of bassist Duane Gallagher (he has since been replaced by Hugh Feely), the rootsy spirit of the group has not been lost. One only has to glance at them to know what type of music they specialise in. Leather jackets and lumberjack shirts paired with the most impressive array of hairstyles (one of them clearly channelling the spirit of Willie Nelson) and their characteristic deep-south twang, Rackhouse Pilfer make an art form out of Americana.
The six members include Leon Mooney on acoustic guitar and lead vocals. He is also cited as chief ‘knee-slapper’; an enviable job title. Fiachra Cunningham is the fiddler and backing vocalist. His deft skill is most notable on the title track ‘Back to the Country’. The banjo and second guitarist is Mark McGovern, while Les Jones and Willie Kelly shine on the mandolin and percussion. The aforementioned Duane Gallagher rumbles and twangs in the background on the upright bass.
The overall feel of the album is confident, cohesive and infectiously addictive. Given that bluegrass is a genre that can come off as twee and lacklustre if not executed properly, Rackhouse Pilfer manage to pull it off with style and aplomb. ‘Drive my Life Away’ with its slow striding tempo still manages to be a fantastic dancing tune. Indeed, the entire album begs to be danced to. Probably the main reason they are such an intensely good live band. One of the highlights of the album is Ryan Adams’ ‘Sweet Carolina’. The vocalist really shines here while the violin and banjo battle out a harmonious duet in the background; notable but never obtrusive.
It is rare that such oft-played and oft covered country classics can be given a new lease of life, but Rackhouse Pilfer’s energetic and enthusiastic renditions certainly bring a much-needed sense of youth and vigour to the songs. Hardworking, prolific and blessed with boundless energy as they are, they are already working on a brand new album which will be available sometime in the coming year. However, where Rackhouse Pilfer’s true talent lies is in the powerful and joyous value of their live performances. A must see in the North West.