Don Merckle and the Blacksmiths, The Pugilist

By Kevin Oliver
Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Don Merckle and the Blacksmiths
The Pugilist

Donald Merckle’s debut with his newest backers isn’t so much a fresh start as it is one more transition for a local music lifer. The group’s leader is a stalwart of South Carolina’s rock scene, having spent time with Loch Ness Johnny, American Gun and Bare Knuckle Champions. Lucky for Merckle, the rollicking, Irish-tinged folk he hammers out with his Blacksmiths stacks up well against previous efforts.

What: Don Merckle and the Blacksmiths
Where: Art Bar, 1211 Park St.
When: Saturday, June 7, 8 p.m.
With: Pocket Buddha, The Ruby Brunettes, Dr. Roundhouse
Price: $5

Though he’s currently based in Charleston, Merckle’s new outfit is replete with connections to the Columbia scene. Banjoist Chris Lawther and bassist Kevin Petit have both been with him since his Loch Ness Johnny days, and five of this album’s 11 offerings are reworked versions from the singer’s previous projects.

These older tunes are far from filler, and even those who have heard the original versions will find new revelations. The new acoustic-driven take on American Gun’s “Fight Song” is denser and more yearning, while the Blacksmiths’ revision of that outfit’s classically appointed bar-band standby “Drunk Girls” twists and shimmies with tinkling piano and striding bass.

Of the new material, “Lucille” and the traditional Irish tune “The Leaving Of Liverpool” shine the best light on the Blacksmiths’ sound, which breeds Celtic flavors with banjo-driven folk, approaching the back-porch jubilation of Bruce Springsteen’s 2006 platter We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. Opening salvo “Murder On My Mind” tamps in some alt-country buckshot and a darker lyrical bent, an additional flavor that the Blacksmiths handle quite well.

If there’s a complaint to be had, it’s the lack of variation in the band’s breakneck tempos. This tactic is likely a necessity in the live environment, but on a full-length album one might reasonably expect a couple breathers. The Pugilist slows only once, but that mid-tempo offering, dubbed “On My Own,” furthers the group’s reliable charms — exactly what you’d expect from a man with Merckle’s credentials.

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