CRAIC (n): (pronounced "crack") Irish colloquial term for a good time with other people, especially good conversation, fun. "What's the craic?"--What's up? How's it going? Where's the party? The release of their last album, "This Time Around," found The Sandcarvers coming of age. Now, with the release of "Dealin' Craic," the band is truly hitting their stride. One gets the feeling that The Sandcarvers are ready to place their name right up there among the elite within the genre of Celtic rock. Part of this maturing process has to be attributed to the band's two newest members, A.J. Laird and Jeffrey Miller. The two share lead and harmony vocals (a welcome addition to the band's repertoire), with Laird providing percussion (and even a bit of harmonica) and Miller handling the acoustic guitar duties. They come to the band with stellar credentials: A.J. was a theater major and made a name for himself as one of the top vocalists in and around Penn State as well as Southeast Wisconsin, while Jeff has been playing numerous instruments since junior high and was a veteran of the Irish Pub circuit in Michigan. And, as we hear on "Dealin' Craic," they're also a strong song writing duo as well...a veritable one-two punch, both lyrically and musically. Whether it be their own individual compositions or songs on which they collaborated, this is some of the strongest, most well-crafted writing you're going to hear today, no matter the genre. "Dealin' Craic" finds the band going beyond the usual "Celtic adornments" found in most bands of this type. From the fine selection of traditional numbers to the originals penned by the band, this is truly a mixture of "Celtic" and "Rock." If you didn't know better, you'd swear that the new songs have been around for hundreds of years, but kicked up with rock infusion. From the searing guitar work of Jamie Verbeten; the solid "in the pocket" drums of Tom Mlot; the straight-ahead bass lines of JJ McAuliffe; the enormous talent that is Raven "of the 1001 instruments": to this quartet add the soaring vocals of A.J. Laird and the high energy strumming--and humor--of Jeff Miller and, well...you have a band that is ready to move! TRACKS "Emerald Isle" (Laird, Miller, Raven) A song about a man who realizes that, no matter where you go in this world, home is always with your family and friends. Included in the bridge is a song called "Reel-y Fathter," named by Raven's then-three-year-old son, Casey. "Black and Tans" (Trad.) Come on...it's "Black and Tans." The break in this one includes the traditional reel, "Captain McBain," newly-harmonized by Raven, in which Jamie lays down a mean riff. "Annie McGrew" (Miller) Written by Jeff about a woman who always seems to show up 'uninvited' wherever a glass or twelve is being raised. This one features some nice accordion sounds. "King's Crown" (Miller) Have you ever had the feeling that you "...can do anything..." after you've had a few? Even if you just know someone like that, you'll relate to this song. Featuring some beautiful and haunting bassoon work by Raven, who's been known to refer to this one as "Page Nineteen in Jeff's Personal Diary." "Hideaway" (Laird, Raven) This one began as a slow instrumental by Raven, who passed it along to Jeff, who gave it a righteous beat, who then presented to A.J., who found it the perfect vehicle for lyrics inspired by his brother-in-law, who is currently serving in the military. "Carrickfergus" (Trad.) Resurrected by A.J. and Raven from the Sandcarver archives, THIS is why A.J. is one of the top vocalists out there. His rendition of "Carrickfergus" is one of the most emotive vocal performances in years. "Trampoline" (Miller) The Sandcarvers get a little Techno in this semi-autobiographical song written with "The one who shall remain nameless"--who keeps bouncing in and out of your life--in mind. "The Ring" (Miller) Boy meets Girl. Boy falls head over heels. Boy writes song with happy ending, because in real life, Boy doesn't even learn Girl's name before Girl returns to Ireland. Just a little tip from your ole Uncle Jeff: Don't let opportunity slip through your fingers. This one has some over-the-top chanter work...in case you wanted to rock out a little. "Neverending" (Roberts, Woolford) The Sandcarvers take a stab at The Young Dubliners tune and really hit the mark. This song is big. REALLY big! Rumor has it they left this one in the same key as the original... you know, just in case a certain composer ever wants to join them onstage sometime. "Last Wednesday Night" (Miller) Drunk again. Hey, what's an Irish band without a few drinkin' songs? Another song based on actual events, with some smokin' harmonica from A.J. "Mairi's Wedding/Nolan's Game/I'll Tell My Ma" (Trad., Raven) Two trad songs linked in the middle by a wonderful little ditty written by Raven about her older son's favorite [baseball] game [baseball] ever [baseball] of all time. "Liam's Romp" (Trad.) A medley of four traditional reels: "Clark's Hornpipe," The Silk Handkerchief," "The Eight and Forty Sisters" and "The Hunters Hornpipe" and collectively named for Tom's son, Liam. The song was recorded as a true Irish session, with Tom on bodhran, Raven on soprano recorder and Jeff on guitar, all in a semi-circle around a single microphone. "Miles Ahead, Miles Behind" (Laird, Miller) Much inspiration is to be found in this song with lyrics by A.J., who originally had a slower song in mind, until he handed it to Jeff who came up with the melody heard here. The world has been waiting for a Celtic Rock Anthem...this is it! "Roll Me Over" (Trad.) Here we have traditional lyrics that have gone by multiple titles, including "Captain Dixon" and, more notably, "Captain Wedderburn." Many fine performers from Cathy Ryan to Great Big Sea have taken a turn at this one. Now, we have "Roll Me Over," and The Sandcarvers own this song! This one was progressing nicely, but then Jamie got nasty on electric guitar, Tom OD'd on Bo Diddley, and the rest is history. A.J. and Raven share vocal chores on this one and, if you're not dancin', you're dead! "Tullamore Dew" (Miller) In loving tribute to the Michigan- based Irish trad duo of the same name who corrupt--...er, got Jeff started on the Irish Pub circuit. Yeah, that's it. (Jeez! Does Raven ever breathe on this song?) The Sandcarvers' songs are songs of life...it's joys and sorrows, it's battles both won and lost. But in the end, each one is a song of hope...It's all good as long as you're "Dealin' Craic." A.J. Laird: vocals, percussion, harmonica, bodhran Jeffrey S. Miller: acoustic guitars, vocals Thomas C. Mlot: drums Raven: recorders, keyboards, bassoon, flute, chanter, vocals Jamie Verbeten: electric guitars JJ McAuliffe: bass.