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Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2008 09:02 pm

The Emerald Underground makes a ruckus

On New Year’s Eve, The Emerald Underground perform at First Night and Celtic Mist.

“Ruckus” is defined in my dictionary as a “noisy and unpleasant disturbance,” similar to a commotion, a rumpus or a hubbub. As used by local Celtic fusion/rock band The Emerald Underground in the title of their latest CD release, Ruckus at the Shamrock Hotel, the word takes on a somewhat different connotation. It pops up a great deal in Celtic and Irish parlance when referring to party time for music making and TEU hangs right in there supporting all things Celtic related, including partying with a passion when music is involved.

This recording, the second full-length CD produced by the group, is a combined effort culled from two 2008 shows; the first a Music in the Park concert on Sept. 21 at Washington Park and the second a show at the Indian Summer fall festival at Lincoln Memorial Garden on Oct. 11. As drummer/percussionist Nat Radwine tells it, with the combination of gigs making the one recording, “We couldn’t call it ‘Live at the whatever’ so we chose to manufacture a tall tale and title the CD around it.”

And what better music for a bit of the blarney than that from the glorious Emerald Isle itself? Radwine photographed an old sign from a Springfield landmark establishment with possible Celtic connections of its own, the Shamrock Hotel. With some handy computerized touches by band pal Scott Kilbey, the album artwork reflects what seems to be the remnants of a heckuva commotion, otherwise known in the Celtic world as, you guessed it, a ruckus.

Recorded live and mastered in the studio by local sound guru Ric “Skip” Major, the CD catches the group displaying their finest ruckus-making form, performing 13 numbers on their home turf in central Illinois. Songs include Irish folk standards of the rowdy, drinking variety, a version of the Woody Guthrie classic Pastures of Plenty arranged with a Celtic twist, reworkings of contemporary Celtic fusion music and several Emerald Underground originals.

“We wanted to catch the environment and energy of a live show with the quality of a studio mix,” says bassist and vocalist Bill McKenzie. “And we did it with a minimal amount of tweaking to represent our live sound.”

The group first came together about seven years ago when local musicians Lanny Montgomery, Jack White and Joe Kath created Stone Ring Circle as Springfield’s first and only Celtic rock band. In 2007 the band became The Emerald Underground and adopted the current roster of Radwine and McKenzie with Kath covering the fiddle and mandolin, White on guitar and keyboards, Theresa O’Hare playing flute and whistle, Hank Helton on guitar and vocals, and Lori McKenzie on percussion and vocals.

Dipping into the wide variety of dynamic music available in the Celtic genre, The Emerald Underground easily flows from ripping trad rhythms to sweet contemporary sounds within a set and often within a song. They can knock out rowdy hooley numbers in a pub, then pack up and head to an official state-sanctioned event and play a pleasant, pretty-sounding show all in the same night.

On New Year’s Eve that is precisely what they’ll do — with a tasteful and tempered First Night Springfield performance followed by a raucous and rambunctious celebration at the Celtic Mist Pub. Perhaps there are more definitions of a ruckus than we’ve been led to believe.

Copies of the new CD, The Emerald Underground Live: Ruckus at the Shamrock Hotel will be available at all shows.

And a happy new year to you, too!

On New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31, The Emerald Underground performs twice at Lincoln Library (6:45 and 8:45 p.m.) for First Night Springfield then continues the celebration at Celtic Mist Pub from 9:45 p.m. into next year.

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