15 years in the Irish education system means I can stand before you now and say with supreme confidence that Ispíní na hÉireann means “Sausages of Ireland” as Gaeilge. What my years of schooling never thought to tell me was why the gentlemen at Ispíní na hÉireann decided to go for that name, or why they didn’t make it Ubh, Bagún agus Ispíni na hÉireann for a more fulfilling breakfast, but a harder time typing their name into Spotify.
The answer, I’m told, is they’re the “the slippiest, greasiest dogs going”. I probably wouldn’t admit I was a greasy dog unless under immediate threat of torture, but I have to admire the boldness of Ispíní and their rambunctious debut album, The Hard Working Men.
The gentlemen at Ispíní na hÉireann form a comedy wing of the recent hoard of neo-traditional music centered around The Cobblestone, the Smithfield lighthouse of Dublin’s trad scene. If you’re particularly lucky, one can often spot a wee seisún occurring inside with members of Lankum, Ye Vagabonds and countless others of renown. While there’s something appreciably demure about the thick, atmospheric compositions of Lankum or the melancholy reimaginings of Ye Vagabonds, Ispíní na hÉireann go for a less subtle approach that blends heritage and tradition with light-hearted, irreverent comedy.
There’s no comedy songs without the songs, of course.
Ispíní’s musical skill forms a solid skeleton to support the comedy flesh, so to speak. The skill and energy in ‘Bash Bash Bash’is a wonder – the arrangement between complex melodies, orchestration and bold percussion feels inspired, a solid blend of tradition and ingenuity. The solemn and stripped back approach to ‘A Health to the Company’ maintains this blend perfectly, bringing in a fresh vocalist to great effect.
You see the same powerful arrangement abilities in their rendition of ‘The Silver Spear’ – there’s huge power in the mass of their arrangement, broken up by (for some reason) Halloween sound effects. It’s one of a few curious choices, like putting the words of ‘Spancil Hill’ to the tune of ‘House of the Rising Sun’.
While the laughs can be hit and miss, comedy sets Ispíní apart from their contemporaries. ‘Please Don’t Stop The Fun’ is the best song of the album by far – it’s full of wit and has a catchy little melody with a lot of great lines. Beyond that track, ‘Talk to Joe’ struggles at times to fit its jokes into the song’s meter, but is musically fantastic with a saxophone to die for.
What I think I’m missing is that I’m not hearing these songs in the way they were intended. I don’t think I’m getting what was intended when I’m sitting in my room, breathing quicker through my nose when a joke lands. The proper venue for this album is when you’re on a barstool, watching Ispíní have the craic while you sip on a Guinness.
Definitely take a gander through this album for the top-tier instrumentation & skill at play in Ispíní, I promise you’ll be impressed. If comedy’s where your concern lies, you’ll be better off seeing the lads in person any Monday night in the Cobblestone, and I’m sure I’ll see you there too.