Editor’s note: Casey Neill and the Norway Rats will no longer be playing at the San Luis Obispo City/County Library due to scheduling problems.
Portland-based singer Casey Neill and the Norway Rats, which includes Jenny Conlee of indie rock band The Decemberists, will play a show at San Luis Obispo’s City/County Library – the actual library, not THE Library for all you booze hounds out there.
Casey Neill and the Norway Rats claim to fuse modern rock with punk, Americana and Celtic styles, and are currently promoting its third album, “Brooklyn Bridge,” which was released almost one year ago.
Conlee, who is also a longtime accordionist, pianist, organist, keyboardist and occasional backup vocalist for the indie-rock band The Decemberists, is a member of the Rats in her spare time.
Frontman Neill has enjoyed critical success since the 1995 release of “Riffraff,” which was praised by everyone from punk rocker Jello Biafra to folk legend Pete Seeger. He is also known for being a member of The Pogues tribute act KMRIA, which features past and present members of The Decemberists, Eels, The Minus 5 and others.
“Brooklyn Bridge” is a culmination of Neill’s raspy, Portland-influenced efforts produced by legendary Scottish fiddle player Johnny Cunningham, who had also worked with the Dropkick Murphys and features a wide array of stylings.
Although Neill’s band is more keen to calling itself “Celtic” in some cases, most of the songs on the 12-track album seem to have a real classic country feel to them, especially the title track and “Chainlink Fence.”
The rest of the album has a more twangy rock feel that is infused with a bit of that Irishy sort of up and down melody common among Celtic-influenced groups. Neill’s raspy vocals further contribute to the rock feel, and sound like a toned-down and focused Tom Waits. “We Are the City” is the most Celtic-sounding track, while the rest barely cling to the term.
“Once Upon a Time” features a melodic duet with smooth vocals and flawless coordination between the singers. If you listen to one track on the album, this one should be it.
“Throw Me to the Dogs” is the least appealing track on the list, with the lyrics: “Throw me to the dogs, man/ Throw me to the dogs, man/ That’s where I belong.” Sorry, but that’s a little too overdramatic and emo for such an otherwise well thought-out album.
So although the band is advertised as spreading across several diverse genres, the album could easily be classified as indie-rock with country feel. However, Neill’s vocals change throughout. While his raspy voice seems legit at first, it’s hard to reconcile it with the other songs when his voice takes on a very different sound elsewhere in the album.
To check out Casey Neill and the Norway Rats for yourself, see them play live at the San Luis Obispo City/County Library, 995 Palm St., at 7 p.m. Saturday night.