Music Review: Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's "Galway Races"

By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 14, 2009

"Another turning point -- a fork stuck in the road," Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley declared.

A partial comment on the state's budget crisis? An excerpt from a speech on saving jobs in a state whose unemployment rate just reached its highest level in 16 years?

Nah. It's a Green Day lyric sung by the governor on the new all-covers album by O'Malley's March, the Celtic-rock group that's mostly been on hiatus since its lead singer, principal songwriter and tin whistle-ist became the frontman for his home state.

O'Malley has been too busy with the whole governing thing to write any new songs, but he still managed to get the band back together for sporadic recording sessions in the basement of his drummer's Baltimore home.

The result: a new O'Malley's March album, "Galway Races," which mixes Irish instrumentals and rebel anthems with remakes of folk and rock songs by the likes of Steve Earle, the Saw Doctors and Green Day, whose 1997 hit, "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)," receives something like a Celtic-ska makeover. The band will perform two shows tonight at Baltimore's Creative Alliance at the Patterson to promote the album, whose title track is a galloping, electrified folk song about Ireland's largest annual horse-racing festival.

Let California have its Hollywood governator, Alaska its retired sportscaster-turned-guv and Minnesota a professional wrestler just six years removed from running the state. Maryland has a chief executive who sings about "Bold Fenian Men," the sort of freedom fighters who "loved poor old Ireland, to die they were willing."

For those about to jig, O'Malley salutes you! While strumming a guitar and wearing his standard weekend-warrior uniform of muscle shirt and tight jeans, of course.

"Galway Races" (the fifth O'Malley's March album) is probably best described as serviceable Irish-bar-band proffer. And though O'Malley is clearly the big draw, he appears to be the group's weakest link, his vocals relatively flat and faceless. A cover of Christy Moore's "So Do I," for instance, is musically compelling, what with its gorgeous, echoing guitar textures; but O'Malley's thin, unremarkable voice takes the air right out of the song. ("So Do I" is much more successful on those few occasions when O'Malley's voice is double-tracked in some sort of vocal stimulus plan.)

The band sounds better when it strikes up sans vocals, as on the traditional instrumental "Sean Sa Cheo." Elsewhere, harpist Jared Denhard's work truly shines.

"Galway Races" has already struck a sour note in some quarters: It's been panned by the Maryland Republican Party, whose chairman, James Pelura, noted that the album's arrival this week coincided with the news that shrinking state revenue will force at least $500 million in budget cuts. "Maybe Martin O'Malley should have been spending more time working to really streamline Maryland's government and relieve the burden on working families and less time recording his latest O'Malley's March album," Pelura said in a statement.

Apparently, even when it comes to his important cultural contributions, the governor can't escape partisan political criticism.

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