REVIEW: Scythian - It's Not Too Late

Scythian’s fans had reason to be concerned earlier this year. Fresh off another sold-out December show at the 9:30 Club and still enjoying the success of their stellar 2011 record American Shanty, the band’s fan base and success was seemingly ready to explode. But in January, Scythian posted a note to fans on its Facebook page saying that they were taking most of the year off to spend time with family. It was certainly understandable – the band had played more than a thousand shows in eight years, and band members Alexander and Daniel Fedoryka’s mother and grandmother had recently passed away.

It was a pleasant surprise, then, to learn that the band had spent the early part of 2012 writing new material while holed up in upstate New York. Then in March the band announced an Indiegogo campaign (similar to Kickstarter) to finance their fifth studio album. The successful effort eventually raised more than $26,000.

The end result, It’s Not Too Late, is a fantastic addition to their catalog. Once again mixing Celtic, Ukranian, rock, and other influences in a wonderful goulash of sound, Scythian can at times make you think you’re listening to an inventive and well put together mixtape. Each band member has uncanny musical talent and plays multiple instruments, allowing them to easily navigate a wide musical reach.

As a result, a song like “The Mermaid” can remind one person of a sea shanty, another of Enter the Haggis, and yet another of the Specials, and all would be correct. While some bands might be buried under the weight of such musical schizophrenia, it makes Scythian shine.

As their live shows have proven, Scythian’s music will also make you move. “The Sheldon House Reels,” named after the large Jamestown mansion where most of the album was written, is a blistering torrent of speedy fiddles and acoustic guitars. Likewise “Halloran’s Jig,” dedicated to the late Patrick Halloran of the band Ceann, starts simply enough but turns it up to 11 about two-thirds of the way through. If your toes aren’t tapping, check your pulse. (A small complaint might be having a reel and jig without a waltz and strathspey – they could have hit for the Scottish cycle.)

The influence of Scythian’s years of playing Irish bars and festivals continues on songs like “Far Away,” a slow sean nós about death that one would expect to hear as the bartender ushers people out of the pub. The album’s closer, “Leaving Liverpool,” dates back to the mid-1800s, but here is given a jaunty update with some highly skilled mandolin work. Updating traditional Irish songs with a modern sound can sometimes be a hit-or-miss proposition (witness the Dropkick Murphys’ “Irish Rover”), but Scythian is so steeped in musical tradition that their version tops even those of the Dubliners and Clancy Brothers.

But Celtic music is not the only area where the band excels. Alexander Fedoryka’s furious fiddle in “Arkan” (named after a traditional Ukrainian dance) conjures images of men in moccasins and vests dancing fiercely around a fire. “End of the Street” adds an accordion and washboard to create a fine zydeco number. And “That Girl” fuses early 60s R&B with fiddles and horns for the record’s most straightforward pop song.

Scythian’s touring schedule in 2012 has been light – mainly various world music festivals near the east coast. Hopefully this will give them the downtime they’ve been craving, allowing them to reenergize for the December 9:30 Club show that their fans have come to rely on to kick off their end-of-the-year celebrating. Until then, they can use It’s Not Too Late to practice their step-dancing and hornpipes, as it’s impossible to hold still as the record plays.