SPIN Magazine, March 2007
These Seattle punks draw on everything from tradtional Celtic sounds to classic rockabilly for your St. Paddy's Day pleasure… (Spin Out)
Shite n' Onions Webzine »
Seattle's Wages of Sin have always played the sort of outlaw rock'n'roll that your great-great-great grandfathers got drunk to. The sort of stuff Herman Melville would have kept on his iPod, if he'd had an iPod, and deafened himself with in the afterglow of writing jags, swinging punches at the shadows and passing out amidst the salty wreckage of his own hallowed creation. In the Wages' frontier stomp and Boot Hill double bass are to be found the roots of rockabilly and skiffle; choruses worthy of John Wayne horse operas mixed with ethyl-soaked greaser getaway music. Their third album, Queensbury Rules, is their strongest yet, upholding a vision both original and vividly familiar to anyone with even a passing ear for roots music.
The WoS are devoid of that dilettante uncertainty which permeates many bands who seek to tinge their own songs with more rustic stylings. They play from within the form, not against the form, and they OWN these forms outright: country and proto rock'n'roll. There is no second row in The Wages of Sin, and the folk instruments – fiddle and mandolin – are not there to merely convey heritage; every component is front and centre, every song, the whole way through. Frontman Jesse Stewart sings it loose and free, and on the faster songs often sounds like he's just come from doing a quick couple of shots with whomever else happened to be at the bar. There is no earnest composure and this approach complements the inherent swing of the music.
The track listing is paced to work like a live set. That being the case, everyone is wanting to dance within the first few bars of 'Vigilante'. Is it too soon to dance? Some hang back, grinning through their own restraint. The hardcore and the boozed are already at it, and there's a bit of breathless puffing as the title track slides into gear: 'Queensbury Rules' is a boogie with a Cajun heart. The greasers up the front are all over it, they're off. The overland tour continues with the exhumed blues of 'Ball Lightning', which would sell an awful lot of bourbon if any distillery was ever interested in talking turkey. 'Greenlake Wyrm' seems to be a cautionary tale concerning monstrous inbred offspring, the story behind a local legend, so to speak.
And then to the album's best singalong, 'Fare Thee Well'. A sailor, his beloved Maggie, the rival Jacky Tipton… jealousy marked by a deceptively gradual minor chord progression as we stalk into O'Malley's bar (an appropriate nod to Nick Cave, nice one!) and next thing, well, “pretty Jacky Tipton ain't so pretty anymore”… then it's off to Australia, always a good move, under the circumstances.
So now we're on the open sea but still dancing, this time on the deck. 'Jenny Finn' is a call-and-answer shanty that strongly recalls the first WoS album, 'Custom of the Sea'. By now, there is spilt grog all over the floor, and the greasers are lurching and piling up around the foldback speakers. So a breather is in order, and the blues rock of '13 Lies' follows, then the power chords and punkabilly gospel of 'Lucky Boy'. And then WoS pull off the near-impossible task of taking the Irish standard 'Tell Me Ma' someplace new. In this case, on a cruise down a country back road, a very long way from Belfast City, with a red-haired burlesque dancer in the passenger seat and some outdoor sex on the cards.
'Midnight Train' is the type of simultaneously wild and lonesome country blues mantra which The Cramps made their own, replete with insolent reverb and rumble. The recording mix is a textbook example of perfect spacing; a plethora of retro hooks are all allowed their chance to shine, making this something of a tribute to the iconography of countless train songs. 'Murder' continues the vibe with a punchy twelve bar confessional, traversing some No Man's Land between Stephane Grapelli and Social Distortion, (yep, that's what I said).
First listen to 'Whiskey Lullaby' and I wanted to go to the local casino and disgrace myself. Or pick a fight with the sort of wanker who wears Johnny Cash t-shirts but can't name more than two Johnny Cash songs. Or ride a mechanical bull. The “whack-for-my-diddly-aye-oh” of the chorus is the best hook of its kind since Hampton the Hamster's 'Hamsterdance' changed the way we all think about mountain music. Wistful, fatalistic and liberated: the living essence of the true vagabond. By the fifth listen, I was ready to ride a mechanical bull INTO the casino and commence the disgrace from that point. This song kicks arse in the most straightforward way.
The show finishes with 'The End Of The World', a Western campfire crooner. I half expected Jesse to bust out a faux sentimental spoken bridge, but no. Maybe next time, pardner, maybe next time. A perfect set closer, a perfect album closer. Encores follow, no doubt, and at least we at home can go to the previous two albums and keep the band up there in front of the mics for a few more.
~ Will Swan
Askew Reviews »
Since starting this crappy lil' zine you're reading well over ten years ago, I'd wager maybe one CD a year submitted to Askew Reviews was near life altering for me; Gringo Mariachi by Seattle's The Wages of Sin is one of those CDs. The music is an insane fusion of Celtic, bluegrass, and even a little country (think not Garth Brooks, but Violent Femmes circa Hallowed Ground-though, that may be more folk like, but you get the picture) with punk and rock-a-billy. And while the music can stir the dead, the lyrics are so damn working class, they make the Dropkick Murphys' words seem almost pencil pusheresque (and no, I am not slamming my beloved DKM). Picket line riots, coal mine deaths, and bible/gun toting are just the tip of the rainbow. Ya, then there's the booze aspect, most notably in "The Drunkard's Prayer" (a song I would open my set with if I were in a cover band). "Skull Creek Logger" opens with the tale of debt ridden loggers taking on one hell of a job to clear their bills, which is driven home by Jesse Stewart's rough and tumble vocals. Stuck in the middle of the twelve dirty face workers' tales is a nice cover of The Clash's "White Riot." Good golly Miss Molly, reading the lyrics is akin to reading a damn book! Oh, for whatever reason, I have a feeling fiddleman T. Royal Morgan is a mental case. Missing out on Gringo Mariachi would be a sin of musical proportions.
Shite n' Onions Webzine »
Ornery (adj.): having a contrary disposition; cantankerous
Yosemite Sam is a prime example of an ornery character well known to all. And The Wages Of Sin play purely ornery music. By burning the sugar and gloss off the surface of rockabilly, they effectively reduce it to its folksy roots and then take it waltzing around the saloon floor while grizzled prospectors spit their 'baccy and whoop it up. While their second album Gringo Mariachi has all the rustic bluster of Yosemite Sam on a goldfields rampage, it also showcases a particularly rich depth of musicianship rarely seen in punked-up folk. This milieu is male, all-the-way-male, and sepia-tinted at that. But the misadventures of messy, flawed men is bedrock material for country music. Long may it be so.
The card game opens with Skull Creek Logger, a folk punk bone-rattler as pleasingly gutsy as its name suggests. The rolling war drums are reminiscent of Rum, Sodomy & The Lash-era Pogues. Men fight the elements of the New World and shout back into the wind as they are decimated by forces beyond their control. Fury and fiddle music provide a terrific unholy union. Then onto the album's prettiest firecracker The Drunkard's Prayer; if anyone was ever in any doubt about the direct lineage shared by American folksong and rockabilly/rock & roll then this song settles all arguments. And best of all, it carries the wistful, lonesome and fatalistic essence of such roots music all within a hollered chorus of "tur-a-lur-a-laddie". There are countless songs of rambling and alcoholism churned out by any band that dares to brand itself with the Jolly Roger but this one really stands out. Lead Sinner Jesse Stewart has delivered a classic traditional song which every greaser and Bettie Page girl from Seattle to Sydney will immediately appreciate. Hellcat grooves. And unsentimental, too: "I woke up in the street and all the birds were singing, so I went back to the bar while the church bells all were ringing". Been there, drank that … Prayer just tells it like it is. Belly Of The Whale is 18th Century scurvy and bilge rats stewed and steeped in biblical prophecy. The imagery would not be out of place in an early Flogging Molly song and the minor key keeps it grim.
Black Lung Blues brings Steve Earle's bare knuckled storytelling to mind, a bitter chronology of generations of mining men and their lives of battle and toil. A rich vein of subject material is tapped here. Haymarket opens with a neat gypsy banjo quick-waltz but soon surges into pure countrybilly. This one must be a live favourite. New Orleans Eulogy is country rock of sorts, crammed with swampy imagery and doomed sentiment; "a southern gothic tragedy, an angel's grievous fall, Sin City got your money, liquor took your voice". Bible & A Gun continues with Steve Earle's vision of the 'modern' folk ballad, a tale of incessant drug running against a background of old time religion and military misadventure.
Razor In My Pocket is something straight out of that Irish folksong softback you keep stashed away with that cheap banjo you still haven't got around to learning (LEARN IT, you lazy bastards). Razor is a 'Gangs Of New York' tale minus the ridiculous accents of that film (Day Lewis excepted). Portrait Of An Evangelist stands out on account of its stark Appalachian gospel introduction, unsettling and reeking of brimstone. Then it's back on the salty decks with Ten Fathoms Deep, very much in keeping with the sound of The Wages' first album, Custom Of The Sea. But there's a theremin in here somewhere (!). The Righteous Stranger by mandolinist Marc Robben is a scalding political stream, totally contemporary and therefore something of a departure for the band. And then ... (here we go) … and then a banjo and mandolin-powered take on The Clash chestnut White Riot. You can't really go wrong with that. The album ends with a no bullshit country death song – Stull – a solid and typical Wages broadside that serves to illustrate the fact that country death song lyrics sit happily alongside heavy metal lyrics; "I'd like to say I'm on the righteous path, but I've done things that might incur God's wrath". 'Cept there's a county sherriff in here, so you know it's The Wages Of Sin.
The good folk of Seattle should be very proud of The Wages Of Sin. Great musicians to a man, they take roots music in their own direction with confidence and clout. And to all of us flawed gringos who have rambled, brawled and woken up in the street, they show that has always been thus. But also that redemption is always lurking in the wings. Manana, manana, a gringo's life for me.
~Will Swan November, Sydney 2008
Seattle punks Wages of Sin owe a lot to their European counterparts the Pogues! Melting rockabilly, punk, waltzes and Celtic influences into a stream of constant enjoyable music, the band succeeds in creating a great atmosphere that is reminiscent to The Pogues, Flogging Molly and assorted acts!
Leading track "Skull Creek Logger" blasts open and we immediately know what to expect from these guys. Full of rockabilly grooves, Irish Mist and war drums the band brings you a tale about work, slavery, gambling and whoring! Followed by probably the finest tune on the album, "The Drunkard's Prayer" is a song about rum and rambling and comes with a well known chorusline of "tur-a-lur-a-laddie". If not singing about Alcohol, whores or gambling then it's the Union that makes them strong! "The Black Lung Blues" is about a family of miners and their sympathy for the union! But leftists are only as strong as there weakest comrade and never that smart as a real free man! The union might not be broken, but god will punish them with black lung or caves in. "Haymarket" starts out as a fine folk waltz, but quickly turns out to be a great punkabilly song about another union Stint! On a "Bible and a Gun" the band lay down their adrenaline driven songs and take some rest with a down-tempo tune. Sailors, pirates and buccaneers are also a good inspiration for these guys and both "Razor in My Pocket" and "Ten Fathoms Deep" comes with that theme! "The way to heaven is paved with lust and power"!These are the mighty instruments of each preacher! In "Portrait of and Evangelist" it becomes clear that each preacher started out as a sinner and seldom forget the days and tricks long gone!
For thirteen tunes long the band rambles on and brings you in an ecstasy that only can be found on albums like these. Seattle can be proud on their Wages Of Sin. The band takes roots music in all kinds of different direction, exploring boundaries and territories that are not new, but certainly needed to be visited again. Gringo Mariachi is really great album and I'm pretty sure that live this band is a real party band!
~Mr. Blue Boogie
Americana UK »
Like a party in your living room
Immediately you place this album in your player you will, I guarantee, be like me and taken with the energy of The Wages Of Sin. Other than a jolt or two, Wages, as they cover a wide range of music the ride are never less than entertaining — or when it boils down to it, quality. For high points you need go no farther than the whirlwind paced 'New Orleans Eulogy', focussing on the life of country rock legend Gram Parsons it holds the listener attention with it's well written lyrics. Plus of course the band's typical, feel-good shot of adrenalin.
Merging the waters of old and new 'Black Lung' has it all, and like with others like it the listener is well served, songs like 'Portrait Of An Evangelist' that possesses oodles of Celtic influences.
Breaking off with mandolin, fiddle, banjo, upright bass and go-for-broke drumming, 'The Righteous Stranger' offers an infectious chorus, and like with a tune straight out of a St Patrick's Day celebration party. The Drunkard's Prayer, the music and entertainment rush forth in a joyful devil may care fashion not to be denied!
Listening to The Wages Of Sin is like having a party held in your own living room. While as if to prove they don't have to be downing whisky at a rare rate of knots, the boys do on occasions slow things down, as in 'Bible & A Gun'. The next cut, 'Razor In My Pocket' picks up where they had previously left off as they sing of how it might have been many years go under British rule living and drinking etc in Galway Town. Years before Steve Earle had discovered the west coast city of tribes. Keep on rocking, boys — and don't forget the humour!
8 out of 10
Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange »
This is one very rowdy disc though where the term Mariachi fits in is bound to leave the listener puzzled. Mariachi music usually consists of at least three violins, a guitarron (low pitched/base guitar), one high-pitched 5-string guitar and two trumpets. They also dress in the charro outfits, tight studded pants, short tight jackets, and with the wide brimmed embroidered sombrero and that part of it at least in the publicity photos they seem to have correct (whether they play dressed like that is another matter). Their instrumentation is guitar, banjo, pedal steel, upright bass, drums/percussion, mandolin, harmonica, Theremin, bouzouki, and fiddle, and all six members of the group do sing, so they came kind of sneak in there on that count. The music of the Wages of Sin is loud, raucous, generally played loud and very fast, and is a mix of Celtic, Country, Rockabilly, and Punk, while Celtic music is their main touchstone and they branch out from there. The operative word of this group playing music is to play it fast or if possible to play it faster and to sing in a voice that sounds as if the vocals chords have been sandpapered and dragged over a sandy river bottom at a fast gallop. The music because of the speed and loudness begins to blend together and the songs all begin to blend into one another and sound the same. There was one called New Orleans Eulogy, that by title indicated something a bit quieter and roused curiosity about what it would be, and what it would be about. Musically it was played at the same feverish pitch, and as close as my ears listened never did they picked up the words New Orleans, though they did hear a reference to swamps. The song that sums this disc up is White Riot. 'nough said.
Custom of the Sea
Irish Post, January 21 2006 »
Debut album of the year came from the Wages of Sin with the brilliant 'Custom of the Sea', mixing Celtic, country, Appalachian and bluegrass styles (amongst others), which produced classic sea shanty tales of pillaging, plundering and excess drinking. The end product being a highly catchy, full energy and extremely danceable record. that sounded inspired and fresh from start to finish and made a nice change from bands trying to sound like The Pogues.
Shite n' Onions Webzine »
Billed as delivering a treasure chest of "Punk Rock, Sea Shanties & Appalachian Death Polka", Seattle's Wages of Sin do not so much fuse disparate musical elements as revel in the direct lineage of their influences. Sharp tense '50's rock & roll hooks mesh with mountain fiddle stomps in a ballsy reminder that the two styles are just a short shuffle down the holler from each other; mountain music is the raw-handed grandfather of rock & roll after all. And, of course, bluegrass and Appalachian music are the frontier offspring of the Celtic and British ballad and dance music traditions. The Wages plunder these histories with total affinity and come up with a blend as clean and warm as a mouthful of Jamaican rum.
Steaming out of the yard with a version of the traditional 'Railway', complete with a chorus of navvies snarling and hollering in a shanty tent, the band are soon on a south-bound route with 'Lay Me Down' and its 'Devil Went Down To Georgia'-style barnyard swing. The bull fiddle snaps, the mandolin rings and the rain drives down. 'The Angel's Share' continues the singalong with a bottle of sly grog passed around the back pews of a lonesome Baptist church. And then we get to 'The Tyburn Jig'which tells the grim tale of villainous wife-slaying cads and their road to the end of a rope. If this song is not on the next Shite'n'Onions Best Of, I will eat my scally cap for breakfast.
Onto 'Baptized by Fire', which takes us back to that junction in the holler where rock'n'roll left home. The opening hook reminds us that for all the candy floss in the '50's hit 'Wake up Little Suzie', the Everly Brothers themselves were coming out of an old and often wild tradition. That sense of history through music runs like a thread here, not unlike Steve Earle's classic 'Copperhead Road'.
'Django' sees us in Sergio Leone territory; with a respectful nod to the vastly underrated Pogues (with Shane) swan song 'Hell's Ditch'. 'Buccaneers (of Elliott Bay)' has gotta be another S'n'O Best Of contender. 'Graveyard Blues' is virtually a tribute to the most desolate of Appalachian ballad forms, and a cover of the classic porch knees-up 'Salty Dog Blues' is one for the whole family. It sort of reminds me of the Muppets' Jug Band, and I mean that as a serious compliment! Despite the name, 'Heave Away' is a cool cat strut - you can just see the cigarette smoke pooling above the double bass and neon beer signs.
'Jolly Roger' is an album favourite, a fat cannonball of pure pirate punk. 'Dia de los Muertos' tells the wayward tale of a gringo's narrow escape in a way that brings to mind Shane MacGowan's 'Mexican Funeral in Paris'. 'Drinkin' Days' is a honky tonk classic, complete with a time-to-clean-up-my-act sentiment that is designed to make you want to drink even more.
The voyage - or was that railroad trip - ends with 'Saturday Saints', a good bonding pub song complete with some classy Irish fiddle work as a closer. And then you hit 'Replay' and do it all again.
Great stuff. Get it.
Paddy Rock Radio »
If you like your Celt-Punk with a side order of rockabilly... then you will love "Custom Of The Sea". Imagine a Celt-punk band with admiration of Social Distortion while being brought up by a bunch of pirates. "Custom Of The Sea" tears down the walls of traditional folk, Celt, rockabilly, and other music styles and just throws them into a pot.... mixes it with a splash of bounty rum and sets the stage on fire. Hell... I've this CD playing in my car every time I'm getting ready to go out for a high-speed night of drinking and trouble making.
If you dig the sounds of The Black Irish, Blaggards, Tossers, or even 50's Rock N' Roll... you'll dig this disc.
RocknRoll Purgatory #15 »
If you like Pirates, salty sea air, 4ccordion, mandolin, and fiddle you will love this band. One listen and you are transported off to the lower deck of the majestic pirate ship, stomping your foot, watching the wenches dance around, drinking rum and eating roast seagull with your bare hands. They remind me a lot of an Irish folk/rock band like Flogging Molly. But The Wages have cowbell AND a musical saw!!! That makes them aces in my book. There are 12 original tracks plus 2 covers, all of which are excellent. I recommend this. -Lisa
I say, it's not rock and roll unless you're bastardizing a time-honored tradition. The Wages of Sin, for one, have gone back to the folk song: simple tunes, gritty vocals, singalong choruses. They've spiked their songs with Irish fiddle and pirate swagger, and while such things are always in danger of sounding contrived (I mean… they're from Seattle), the Wages have given new meaning to these old traditions by focusing on a topic that offers no easy answers. Their songs grapple with the problem of being good: adhering to a standard of morals when the humanity in us just wants to get drunk and raid the docks. In singing vibrantly and unapologetically about their conflicted hearts, the band manages to live up to its swindled sounds. For who better to express the clash between church and pub than the Irish? Who better to exemplify the thrill of shameless fun than the pirates?
The album starts out with a serviceable, if somewhat unconvincing, rendition of "Railway" (you know, "filla-me-oh-ree-ee-ree-ay…"), but the gold here is to be found in the band's originals. "The Angel's Share" sums up the Wages' celebration of sin: "sinners should beware… but with one more glass, I'm free at last, and I just don't fucking care!" Later tracks reveal a layer of guilt beneath the mirth ("save your own soul, it's much too late for mine"), but there is the sense that every song ends with a toast. The fiddling is an essential part of the Wages' music; although the playing is mostly in the style of Irish trad—"The Tyburn Jig" is a beautiful example of this—there is also the occasional nod to American blues and country. The pirate and drinking angle can sometimes verge on the silly—you won't like this album if you can't sing along to a couple of yo! ho!'s—but it is all done with skill, feeling, and an irreverent swagger.
With so many different sounds melded into one album, the record as a whole can feel a little unwieldy. There are plenty of strong individual tracks, but the band probably would have done well to cut a few. The Wages are clear about what they want to do with their diverse influences—have a good time—and wisely remain unconcerned about any potential problems with combining them. As the band continues to make music, however, they may want to streamline their sound in such a way that helps the listener to focus on what the songs are saying (and they are saying very valuable things), rather than on the whistles and bells of a pirate chorus.
Drink & The Devil (Demo CD)
Rue Morgue #44 April 2005 »
Are you a drunk punk pirate looking for a few good drinking songs? Look no further than Seattle's The Wages Of Sin, former Spectres singer Jesse James' new act that distinguishes itself by making traditional music for non-traditionalists. On their salute to two of our favorite things here in the Drome—drink and the Devil—The wages burn through a selection of "punk rock sea shanties and appalachian death polka," relying on fiddles, violins, upright bass, mandolin and a bit of punk 'tude. Tis four-track teaser lays down their initial gambit: two Celtic cuts (The Angel's Share, Jolly Roger), a spiteful spaghetti western track (Dia De Los Muertos) and a sombre bluegrass tale of terror and tombstones (Graveyard Blues). Pillage and plunder at www.thewages.com.—TD
The Vancouver Courier Dec. 03 »
…Seattle's Wages of Sin, whose Appalachian death polka has been known to cure blindness.
Tablet Magazine #92 »
Skulls and crossbones, drinking rum, tropical islands and stealing from the rich is my fantasy life. I think for me pirates are right on par with zombies, certainly a step or two above run-of-the-mill superheroes. The "Drink and the Devil" demo by local band the Wages of Sin is fucking pirate music—from the themes and lyrics, to the sorta-Celtic acoustic sound. It's certainly worthy of rising your pint in the air and yelling "Aaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrr!" Bravo.
RocknRoll Purgatory #14 »
Fronted by Jesse of the Spectres, this band combines bluegrass with Irish folk a la the Pogues, and they do it startlingly well. I think I actually like them even better than the Spectres, who are damned fine band in their own right. Acoustic guitars and fiddles keep it rustic and immediate, and they show aptitude at both boisterous barroom rousers as well as darker, more haunting songs filled with mortal trepidation. All that from a 4-song demo. I can't wait to hear more of these guys.—BL
Shite n' Onions Webzine »
One of the good things about blending various musical style together is this band from Seattle called The Wages Of Sin. (No need to discuss the bad right?) The Wages Of Sin self-describe their music as: Punk-Rock Sea Shanties & Appalachian Death Polka Since 1862. Considering the fact that they are dead on, I no longer need to continue with the review! The Wages Of Sin like to use fiddles, stand-up bass, mandolins, guitars, drums & vocals as their respective tools of evil! And according to their bio, they enjoy mixing Celtic with country with Appalachian with rockabilly with Tex-Mex with bluegrass and follow the whole mess with a bracing shot of punk rock. The standout for me where the rockabilly and Appalachian influences. If I were you i'd expect some great music coming from these guys in the future. Anyone heading up to Seattle for the Celtic/Arsenal football match this summer will have a great opportunity to see them live.(That is of course, if they're playing that night..)
Oh yeah I need to mention that the 3rd track "Jolly Roger" is 100% Pirate-Approved! ARGGH!
Review By The Reverend Brian Gillespie
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