We may have mentioned The Barley Mob once or twice before on Goldenplec; as the folk/reggae six-piece have been such a regular presence on the Irish music scene and festival bills for the last three years. It would be easy to assume they were old hands at this game. But no, the popularity they have gained since their formation is based entirely on their infectiously enjoyable live performances. Until now that is, with the somewhat overdue arrival of their début album.
Right from the opening track, ‘The Barley Mob’ bottles the joyous, feel-good vibe that the band have brought to their live shows and existing fans are not likely to be disappointed. Their faith – and their financial backing, given that a Fundit campaign subsidised the recording processes – has been rewarded.
While the wordplay of the band’s name suggests a certain legendary Jamaican, the album opens with the toe-tapping banjo riff of Everybody’s Music, that owes as much to folk as it does to reggae. But this isn’t the pretentiously polished faux-folk style of Mumford and Sons; this album rolls out of the speakers like an impromptu session in the smoky corner of a pub on the Aran Islands. The music is wholesome. It has heart. And most importantly it has a message.
Their upbeat sound oozes positivity, but not blind positivity. Frontman Adam Daly sings with a pain-ridden voice of someone who has seen the worst in life, but strives to bring out the best in those around him. ‘The Barley Mob’ is an album by a band who know what it is to be down and out, but have come back brandishing peace and love. It’s an album for those days when you need reminding that “You’ll never be lost when you’ve got music”. Tracks like She’s Falling, Medicine Man and Nothing in the World (with its chorus cry of “Nothing in the world gonna keep me down”) bounce along with inescapably catchy beats and fun-lovin’ lyrics.
As the album concludes, the band’s reggae influences become more pronounced. The World Today and We Go The Distance clearly owe a lot to the music of Bob Marley and The Wailers. These tracks rattle along with a toe-tapping coolness, that may just be a bit too familiar to reggae fans, with The Barley Mob teetering on the edge of becoming derivative. What saves them is the fact that this reggae influence is clearly no gimmick. It is a musical style that the band members love, and this passion is injected into slower songs like Road Tune and Peace of Mind.
If there is one thing which ties the myriad of influences and experimentations together, it is the fact that this is a band with something to say. Bubble Song takes an introspective view, with Daly belting out vivid, insightful lyrics such as “Try to hide it but the hair’s goin grey/ and ever-y-one can see the scars on my face/ there’s some things you cannot change”, and “I’m not a mountain, but at least I’m a man”. Daly may have a lot to say about “What’sa matter with the world today” but behind all of this, ‘The Barley Mob’ is an album with a positive message.
It isn’t really an album of protest music for the hypothetical figure of “the man”, even though it easily could have been. It’s about changing the narrative of life towards positivity. And that is why everyone should listen to The Barley Mob. Not because the album captures the sing-along, foot-stomping, head-bopping ecstasy of their live performances. Not because each song is catchier than the one before. Listen to the Barley Mob because they are a group of musicians who understand exactly what is wrong with the world around them, but rather than being depressed by it, they have risen above it on a wave of good vibrations.