Jubilee Riots takes its name from an outbreak of Protestant-Catholic sectarian violence in Toronto, way back in 1875. The band itself is from Toronto, and describes its music as Northern Roots Rock. Its album Penny Black features a wide variety of sounds. Although traditional Irish music is the base root of what Jubilee Riots creates artistically, there is so much other stuff going on that Irish-ness is just one of the elements. It’s also worth noting here that this group was previously known as Enter The Haggis, but members do not believe that moniker properly represents the group’s current music. They’re simply not as Celtic-centered as they once were.
Opener “Trying Times,” for instance, is an upbeat number colored by harmonica. It features the line, “Throw my hands in the air like a gospel choir” and also carries with it a celebratory feel. If you’re looking for something akin to traditional Irish music, “Lived A Life” is a about as close as this album gets to that style. It has a driving groove reminiscent of The Pogues – albeit without the rough-edged vocals of that band.
However, Irish-sounding music – at least to these ears – is more the exception rather than the rule. For instance, “Traveler” is notable for its trumpet part. Closer, “The Song Plays On,” is a little on the funky side, complete with a funky vocal choir that is a little like the group vocals heard on Funkadelic and Parliament recordings. “The President’s Shoes” is a political number that draws upon the sorts of African sounds that once fueled Paul Simon’s music to create its compelling dance groove.
Along the way, there are some real lyrical zingers. For instance, they admit, “I’ve got an 8-track heart,” and speaking of hearts they add, “Don’t break my heart till I’m ready” during “Unsteady.” Some of these songs have some really heavy roots, too. For instance, “Astray” is based on a letter concerning a Russian Jew who escaped the Death March and believed his family had been killed. Fortunately, they had all actually survived.
The group had a vision, when it came to making Penny Black, to create a collection that they could play live, start to finish, on some festival stage. They wanted it to be energetic enough to make folks dance, yet also intelligent and ultimately meaningful. That’s not an easy thing to do, especially when you consider how vapid repetitive most dance music can be. Nevertheless, they’ve accomplished this difficult task. Penny Black will make you dance, and think, at the same time. It might not fit in at, say, a traditional Irish festival. However, it will go perfectly well at most any contemporary rock gathering.
Jubilee Riots may not scratch your traditional Irish music itch, but if you’re an eclectic music listener, it may just offer up an exciting, surprising listening experience. This is one smart act that deserves to be considered as more than just another world music act. Instead, Jubilee Riots has something for anyone that truly appreciates intelligent contemporary music. The riot going on here is rampant creativity.