Phoenix, Arizona’s Cockswain, otherwise called Swainn, is a Celtic rock quartet weaving several other strands into the thread of their sound. Their third album Under a Willow Tree finds the band staying the course with their sound, albeit with slight variations, and expanding their lyrical reach further than before. The songs included on their debut and sophomore releases are more limited in their subject matter than those written and recorded for this release. Neil has grown as a vocalist as well, his rough-hewn shout transformed into a multi-faceted instrument.
They come charging out of their corner, fists swinging, with the track “Voices”. The rumbling verses, mass choruses, and lean musicality of the song make it an ideal opener and the command bray Neil brings as vocalist holds your attention throughout. It runs almost four minutes in length and obeys rock song conventions – the alternating light and shadow of the verses and choruses, the focus on a hard-hitting rhythm section.
It’s music that often aims to unite. “Bag of Bones” emphasizes a common humanity and it’s a song obviously geared for live performances. The rhythm section shines once again, and the track’s brisk tempo never feels rushed. It boasts another big chorus but Cockswain is well versed in never overwhelming listeners with such a move. “In the Morning” features superb playing from the band and their precision is even more impressive considering its breakneck pace. They maintain a crackling live sound throughout the album, and it is especially powerful here.
The band’s sound has an inherently optimistic bent. Even when the subject matter is a little darker, the surging arrangements and aggressive playing rebuke any hint of despair in the band’s songs. Cockswain celebrate the joy of life and playing music in a near delirious fashion. “Take Action” is a rousing call to storm the ramparts but there’s ample artistry transforming this song from a potential screed into something grander. It has some of the album’s best lyrics and it’s another sure live pleaser.
“Let’s Get Loose” is another raver that raises the stakes as it continues. The consistency of this collection will be welcome to many listeners; Cockswain are a band experienced with delivering winning musical numbers and never waste time with filler. This track is another illustrating the live slant to this material. It’s clearly written for the road. “Up on the Mountain” is another breathless and fleet-footed number that doesn’t dawdle. The tight interplay between fiddle, banjo, and guitar has the wind at its back from the first and Brian’s drumming has boundless energy.
“Another Drinking Song” concludes the album on a predictably raucous note. There are many who might have chosen a different final curtain but one of the band’s defining characteristics is their willingness to follow their Muse no matter where it leads. It’s ribald without ever coming across as tasteless and shares the same jovial spirit as earlier songs. Cockswain’s new album Under a Willow Tree is a thoroughly satisfying effort and certain to curry favor with longtime fans and newcomers alike.