I confess, when I first heard Toils Obscure
, I thought it was a joke -- an American bluegrass band playing songs by 18th century poet Robert Burns is an amusing premise. Hay's voice sounds odd, his accent roaming between Ireland, Scotland and the Southern US, and the banjo gives a distinctly bluegrass feel, so the disc is unlikely to win favor with strict traditionalists.
However, once you get past these initial hurdles, the music is atmospheric and enjoyable. There's very much a fireside pub jam feel to these live recordings -- which is appropriate, given the drinking-themed "Willie Brew'd a Peck o' Maut" and the generally rural subject matter. Indeed, the music's archaic nature makes it strangely refreshing -- it's nice to hear mandolin, banjo and fiddle instead of the usual guitar/bass/drums or electronics combo. However, Toils Obscure is not without recent points of comparison: the beginning of "Bonnie Doon" could be a Sufjan Stevens track, and the closing trio of solo guitar and vocal tracks ("Crowdie", "For a' that" and "Awa, Whigs, awa!") wouldn't be out of place on an alt-folk compilation.