SixMileBridge’s Across the Water

cover, Across the WaterSixMileBridge is something of an odd bird. Oh, I’ve come across Celtic and traditional bands before that use old tunes, or their own material crafted to mimic the traditional styles, and attempt to rock it up with a traditional sound. You know, electric guitars or a driving arrangement or whatever. Usually, in my experience at least, that approach is somewhat akin to The New Kids on the Block cutting a version of “Molly Malone.” SixMileBridge stands out for the simple reason that it bucks that trend on its debut disc Across the Water, a thoroughly impressive effort.

A lot of that has to do with the band members’ diversity. Lead singer and fiddle Maggie Drennon fronted the wildly popular Ceili’s Muse for years before putting together SixMileBridge with her husband, guitarist/bassist Anders Johansson. Wolfgang Loescher contributes strong vocals, percussion and pipe work, as well as the flat-out best showbiz name in the group. Frances Newton contributes nifty work on bouzouki, mandolin, guitar and French horn, but her biggest impact comes via her creative arrangements and vibrant compositions. Altogether, this former Houston band (now based on the U.S. East Coast) puts out a confident, vibrant sound that at times hints at a wide range of influences that include such notables as the Cranberries and Ashley MacIsaac. You can’t really say that there is a “SixMileBridge sound”; they’re all over the place, picking and choosing from a wide variety of musical traditions, with one song sounding nothing at all like the one preceeding it. And that, for what it’s worth, is a good thing.

SixMileBridge wastes no time in staking out its position, kicking things off with “It Was A’ For Our Rightfu’ King,” the best song on the album for my money. The song oozes a cocky confidence, from Drennon’s smooth vocals to Loescher’s melodic piping (and how many times do you successfully get a set of highland pipes to carry the melody in an ensemble band?). They lay down a groove chock full of attitude, one of those that sets your shoulders in motion before you’ve even noticed it, and has you thoroughly hooked by the end of the song. Of course, that just sets you up for “Siúil a Rúin,” a weepy traditional ballad that Drennon’s voice glides through almost effortlessly. There are shades of Clannad on this track, albeit stripped of all the affectations and layered effects that are the hallmark of that Irish group — this is a much more direct, straightforward approach to music.

SixMileBridge shifts gears again on “Under Fiery Skies,” although “shifting gears” might not be a strong enough term. Loescher takes over on vocals and coats the lyrics with an undeniable earnestness. The tune itself owes more to bluegrass and straight-up folk traditions — with a smidgeon of country thrown in — than it really does to any Celtic style. Newton’s plucky mandolin really puts this song over the top. Truthfully, this is one of those songs that seems like you’ve heard it before — an admirable, though infuriating, quality that drives me nuts trying to place it.

Another standout, albeit an odd one, is “My Father’s Ship,” traditional lyrics given new music by Newton, who also sings lead. The result is quite memorable. Newton looks years younger than the other members of the band, and on “My Father’s Ship” she sounds years younger as well. There’s a quirky, little girl quality to her voice, which is a little disconcerting when taken with the maturity with which she delivers the lines. So help me, it reminds me of the vocals on all those Charlie Brown television specials I watched as a child. That may sound like dubious praise (if it could be considered praise at all), but “My Father’s Ship” has a flamboyant melody that quickly becomes addictive. This track has become one of my favorites on the disc.

Of course, there’s a good helping of more somber tunes here as well. “The Witch of the Westmerelands” and “Missing You” are both suitably understated, with Drennon turning in excellent, gutsy performances. A singularly striking piece is the anti-war anthem “When Margaret Was Eleven,” tackled with an unabashed dispairing helplessness by Drennon. When her father, a soldier of the empire, is sent to fight in “High Germany,” the war-scarred child voiced by Drennon explains: “Sweet Lord I was just seven when Margaret was eleven/They served us war for breakfast and soldier’s songs for tea.” Powerful stuff, with equally powerful imagery. It stays with you long after the song ends.

And there’s much, much more here. Newton’s original compositions, “What I Am Thinking,” “High Tide In Galveston” and the set “Geesetracks in the Snow/Nekkid Mudwrestling” are all welcome additions to the album. More individual compositions from this talented woman should find places on future SixMileBride albums. Loescher belts out a burly rendition of “Erin-Go-Bragh,” and “The West’s Awake” is a haunting endpiece to the disc, commemorating the Fenian Uprising of 1798.

SixMileBridge’s popularity has grown rapidly in the scant years since the band’s formation and not without merit. The sound may be all over the place, and a good step or two apart from what would be considered traditional, but, despite this, they never lose focus on the music. Everything’s fresh, sharp and well-honed, coming across exactly as intended. I wouldn’t be surprised if a major label picked them up before too long, not surprised at all.

(Loose Goose Productions, 1998)

[Update: You’ll find SixMileBridge’s music on Maggie Drennon’s Bandcamp page.]

Jayme Lynn Blaschke

Jayme Lynn Blaschke currently resides in New Braunfels, Texas, home of the world's largest waterpark. He works in the media relations department of Texas State University, and also serves as fiction editor for A member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, his short fiction runs the gamut from hard SF to urban fantasy. His short fiction has appeared in various markets including Interzone and Writers of the Future, and a collection of his interviews entitled Voices of Vision: Creators of Science Fiction and Fantasy Speak has been published by the University of Nebraska Press. His Web site can be found here

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