The hard-rocking Irish band, the Young Dubliners owe everything to their fans. "They keep us honest, expecting good music both on the road and on the albums," mentions frontman Keith Roberts.
The inspiration for Real World, the group's third record on Higher Octave, is drawn from the trials and tribulations of being a real, working band and their life on the road. "We are all aware of how lucky we are to be making a living by doing what we love. Without being on the road and playing to our fans, that just wouldn't be possible," Roberts explains. Building a fervent fan base comparable to that of jam band rockers like Phish and Dave Matthews Band, The Young Dubliners have become notorious for the whirling "jig pits" that erupt at their live shows.
In fact, the group's origins can be traced back to Los Angeles' vibrant pub scene in which Dublin natives Keith Roberts (vocals, guitar) and Paul O'Toole first met. Roberts was composing some Irish ballads at the time and thought a band might be in the offing. Assembling a rag-tag team of Irish transplants and like-minded American rockers, The Young Dubliners grew into a pugnacious music machine resulting in their debut, the Rocky Road EP (1994). It exhibited a hefty rock sound that made them a club favorite. Breathe followed a year later with the addition of Chas Waltz (violin, keys, harmonica, etc).
By 2000, the band had morphed into a septet without O'Toole and released the critically acclaimed Red. The presence of the band sky-rocketed: Gabriel Byrne requested the band to write the theme song for his television show Madigan Men and they spent much of 2001 touring Europe with Jethro Tull, and the US as headliners and as openers for acts such as John Hiatt and Robert Cray. The Young Dubliners also revved up the crowd at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. That same year, the band scaled back down to a five-piece - Roberts, Brendan Holmes (Bass), the returning Waltz (who had left the band in 1995), Bob Boulding (guitar) and David Ingraham (drums) - and released Absolutely. "It really was a reflection of the band," says Roberts. "It's got the sense of humor of the band, along with the balls-y lyrics that maybe in the past I couldn't bring myself to write. You put it all together and you get this good-feeling, upbeat album. That record captures us at the time, Absolutely. The return of Chas Waltz, multi-tasking on fiddle, keyboards, harmonica, mandolin, and backing vocals, heralded a renewed creative vigor. "My leaving had more to do with previous obligations than with creative differences," he explains. "When Keith asked if I was interested in coming back, I was ready to get back to being part of a band and touring again."
After going on a number of headlining and co-headlining US tours (Johnny Lang, Collective Soul, Great Big Sea and others), the quintet settled down to record Real World - an album influenced by their predecessors (Waterboys/Pogues/U2/Big Country) and most importantly, life on the road. From Irish-flavored anthemic rock to rowdy pub tunes, lead singer Keith Roberts voice is stronger than ever and the songwriting, performance, and production show a new maturity and artistic ambition. Roberts notes, "Since Absolutely, we've become a much tighter band. It's the first time we've had the same members for two albums in a row, plus we've had the benefit of relentless touring. I think those two factors have really come together to make us sound and write better." During the interlude between Absolutely and Real World came another event which drew the band in. Roberts underwent a throat surgery which required months of vocal cord rehabilitation. "My surgery made us all aware of how close we came to losing it all. Our determination to succeed is even stronger than before," he reflects.
Among the 12 rollicking tracks on the album (all of which were composed or arranged by the Young Dubliners), "Touch The Sky" stands out as a potent rock hit, with its killer hook and positive lyrics. "I've noticed recently that I can't write a song about how miserable life is without supplying some silver lining," Roberts says, laughing. "OK" and "Waxie's Dargle" have already proven to be live favorites, while "Evermore" takes on a very personal spin. "It is one of my favorites and means a lot to me as I wrote the song for my son," says Roberts. All in all, each of the tracks witnessed a collaborative effort by each of the members, allowing for the album's cohesive and rock-solid sound. The album, however, does boast a number of guest players. Ian Anderson - a cohort gained from the band's Jethro Tull touring days - joins the group on "Banshee" and Eric Rigler (Titanic / Braveheart) provides Uileann Pipe on a number of tracks. Roberts also singles out the record's producer, Tim Boland, for the album's superior production.
Musing about the band's sound, Roberts sums up the Young Dubliner's approach to their music, be it Celtic, Irish, or just plain rock. "I like to think that our take on songwriting and performance makes the Young Dubliner's sound unique and original. Our band is made up of Irish and American natives who draw influences from just about everywhere. Our strength is in the sum of our parts. We play as a band, as one."