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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

No You - No Me

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Sep
No You - No Me
Sounds like … Celtic flavored pop/rock, very much like John Lennon and The Beatles crossed with The ChieftansAt a Glance … No You – No Me is a wonderful Irish pop/rock project, but it's not as fun or eclectic as Erasers on Pencils.

Ceili Rain is a special band worthy of your attention if they're not already on your radar screen. Do what you need to do – borrow a copy of one of their albums from a friend, listen to the songs at your local Christian music store, play samples from their albums online, or take a chance and buy one of their albums on my recommendation – just check them out and see what you think. The band is fronted by Bob Halligan Jr., a songwriter who's had success in both Christian and mainstream markets. You're familiar with his work if you're a fan of Rebecca St. James, Eli, Cher, Michael Bolton, Kiss, or Judas Priest – how's that for a diverse range of artists? With little success as a solo artist, Bob formed the band Ceili ("Kay-lee") Rain, which has recorded three albums since their start in 1995. Their third, 2000's Erasers on Pencils, was a critical favorite that should have been included in my Best of 2000 list, but the lateness of our review copy prevented its inclusion. Building on their steadily growing audience, hopes are high that No You – No Me will make Ceili Rain more of a household name.

Ceili Rain's exuberant and joyous sound is best described by Bob: "It's like The Beatles and The Chieftans in a room together with John and Paul in charge saying, 'I love what you're doing, but you've got to slow it down so people can take it all in at once.' What you hear when you're listening to our music is a pop sound first, rock second, and Celtic third. But all three are part of the sound." That ranking of genres explains the band's somewhat unique sound. Most other Celtic bands let the traditional Irish sound steer their music, which is fine if you're looking for music true to the culture. Ceili Rain, however, is first and foremost a pop/rock band who happens to use Irish instrumentation, just as Dave Matthews Band is a rock band that happens to use jazz and folk instrumentation. While the musicianship isn't nearly as wild and elaborate as Dave Matthews Band, Ceili Rain nevertheless boasts seven very talented musicians: Bob on acoustic guitar and piano, Buddy Connolly on button accordion (he's an All-Ireland champion at the instrument), Raymond Arias on lead guitar, Skip Cleavinger on tin whistle and bagpipe, Bob "Buff" Harmon on bass, Tony Morra on drums (with Rock Marvel still serving as the touring drummer). The album additionally features Patrick Ross on violin and Mathy Mattea as a guest vocalist on "Queen for a Day."

As for the Beatles comparison, Bob sounds like he could be related to John Lennon (or at least Julian), and he writes very much like John at his sweetest (i.e. "Beautiful Boy" and "Woman"). One of the album's most beautiful highlights is "Everything Good Is You," which sounds like a classic Paul McCartney piano ballad as sung by John. In it, Bob sings about the inspiration of God and his perfection: "Everything strong in me is you / All that belongs in me is you / With wisdom that is old you make me new / Everything good is you." Equally moving is "We Made It to the Top," a powerful ballad about perseverance, grace, and servanthood that ranks with Ray Boltz's "Thank You." The leaping melody in this one particularly evokes John Lennon's sound.

The album's opening track and first single, "A Hundred Smiles an Hour," is a joyous and driving Celtic pop/rock tune that praises God in celebration of life and love: "I'm doin' a hundred smiles an hour, a thousand times a day / There's a million volts of your power coursing through my veins / May it always be like this, for all of the rest of my days." It's followed by the buoyant "Everybody Clap for Everybody," a song of support and encouragement that applies the old adage of "not winning or losing, but how you play the game" to all of life. Apparently it was inspired by Bob's son's little league team, so be sure to listen to Bob's cute and funny rundown of all the team members' names during the closing vamp of the song. "Forty Shades of Green" employs a rocking guitar riff reminiscent of the Rolling Stones or John Cougar Mellencamp to drive the message of unity among cultures, reminding us to not let nationalistic pride get in the way of unity.

No You – No Me is a wonderful album, but I don't think it's as good as Erasers on Pencils. The previous album was a wonderful blend of ballads, pop/rock, Irish jigs and reels, and even some polka and Latin. No You – No Me gets a little bogged down in schmaltz that will appeal to the "family man and soccer mom" audience. Six of the twelve songs are ballads, and you know you're in for wholesomeness when Bob quotes Jimmy Stewart from "It's a Wonderful Life" in "'I Love You' Always Works." The power of love also is expressed in the somewhat sappy title track, a sweet Irish ballad about patterning our earthly relationships after the one we share with God. The ballad "Live Like a King" predictably but poignantly expresses a desire to follow in Christ's footsteps, and the acoustic pop of "Queen for a Day" examines the lives of underprivileged children and the joy they derive from the things we throw out. These are all fine songs and I can appreciate schmaltz as much as anyone, but I found myself wishing for less melodrama and more fun. The previous album had a fine mix of Lennon social commentary ("Junkyard," "These Things Have a Way of Working Out") and McCartney sentimentality ("Thanks," "God Done Good"); the new one begins to border on Manilow after awhile. As for energy level, I've already mentioned a few of the excellent upbeat songs, but "Bliss That I'm Swimmin' In" comes closest to matching the pure Irish dance sounds of the previous album.

Even though the album's more slow and syrupy, No You – No Me still confirms how much I love this band and Bob Halligan Jr.'s songwriting, enough to make me want to seek out the band's first couple albums. His words are passionate and sincere, easily embraced by a wide audience, yet unique; you can tell that much just from the titles of his songs. Non-Christians can easily appreciate these songs of love, devotion, and relationships for what they are, while also being brought to a better understanding of God's love. If Ceili Rain is still new to you, seek out Erasers on Pencils first. Those thirsty for more Ceili Rain will appreciate No You – No Me as a strong but lesser follow-up.