Erasers On Pencils is the latest celebrated chapter in a career that has found the Nashville-based band continuing to assert itself on both national and international stages. The album once again finds Halligan utilizing his gift for taking universal themes and distilling their essence into a lyrical approach that is capable of touching an audience on a very personal level. The opener, �Jigorous,� for example, tells the story of an aging woman reveling in life again at the sound of a familiar melody; �The Fighting Chair� uses a fishing analogy to encourage the listener to live life to its fullest; �God Done Good� finds Halligan overcome with thanksgiving for his wife and adopted son.
�I have no problem laying bare such personal stories,� Halligan asserts. �What else have I got as a songwriter to offer but myself? I find that the things that really get to me are the things that get to others.� Indeed, Halligan has a knack for taking the big ideas and reducing them to their deepest, most emotional roots. That�s a perfect description of the album�s closer, �Junkyard,� which Halligan explains is �pivotal to the album�s personality. It�s about the having a righteous indignation towards evil. We live in a �garbage in-garbage out� world, where television, movies, magazines�even pop music�constantly confront us with an unwholesome barrage of images. It�s my reaction to how we as a society have allowed these things to infiltrate our lives.�
A native of Syracuse, New York, Halligan got his first break in 1982, when heavy metal band Judas Priest cut one of his tunes. He subsequently pitched a second track to Judas Priest, the ominously titled �Some Heads Are Gonna Roll,� and when that song became a smash, Halligan�s career as a writer-for-hire swung into high gear. "For years, songwriting has been my bread and butter," says Halligan, whose tunes for Michael Bolton, Cher, Joan Jett, Kathy Mattea and others helped him build an impressive r�sum�. His songwriting portfolio now boasts tracks on albums and singles that have totaled some 30 million sales worldwide.
But for the past several years, says Halligan, his passion has been Ceili Rain. �I went through a period of bitterness when my first crack at a solo artist career didn�t materialize a decade ago. At that time, my wife Linda had become infatuated with Celtic music. She had that playing around our house quite a bit and I fell in love with it.� Halligan sheepishly admits that when Linda proposed the idea of blending Celtic music influences with classic rock and pop music, �I said �that�s the dumbest idea I ever heard.� But I tried it, and I have never been the same since.�
Ceili Rain is a departure from many things, among them, the ordinary. The seven-piece ensemble melds hard-driving rock guitar licks with traditional Celtic sounds and instruments such as button accordion, tin whistle, fiddle and bagpipes. Ceili Rain makes music that is, as Halligan puts it, "Celtic music for a pop/rock palate. Imagine The Chieftains and The Beatles locked in a room together, with John and Paul getting the upper hand musically.�
The 1997 release of Say��KAY-lee� launched the band�s recording career. That disc was described in Billboard magazine as �an intriguing musical tapestry�fresh and innovative�it captures the charm of its live shows.� Material from the CD yielded hits for country star Kathy Mattea (�Love Travels�), Irish vocalist Marie Brennan (�Peace Has Broken Out�) and contemporary Christian singers Eli (�That�s All the Lumber You Sent�) and Rebecca St. James (�You Then Me Then You Then Me�).
The band also developed several signature tunes of its own off of its debut, among them �Long Black Cadillac" (a hypothetical account of that long, last ride in a hearse), that Halligan is known to introduce from stage as �a little song about death.� That�s not to be confused with the album's closing track, "666 Degrees," which Halligan often describes as �a little ditty about Hell.�
�But there's a lighter side to Ceili Rain," Halligan insists, with a chuckle. �Even our spiritual songs are not heavy-handed. They're not religious in a 'born again,' in-your-face way. The worst feeling you can give someone is that they�re being preached at. We let the songs do the talking. There is spiritual content if you care to hear it but we don�t shove it down people�s throats.�
Take "That's All the Lumber You Sent," which Halligan co-wrote with his wife Linda and fellow musician and pal Rick Cua. "To me, it's about that ultimate balance sheet at the end of one's life, but it's actually about accountability in any situation." Likewise, "I Don't Need A Picture" can apply to any significant, personal relationship. "The most important thing about Ceili Rain," says Halligan, "is that our music celebrates life."
The band followed its debut with the 1999 release of We�re Makin� a Party, which contained concert versions of many Ceili Rain staples, as well as the previously unreleased live favorite �Stomp.� Initially a self-released project, Erasers On Pencils made its way into the hands of Cross Driven Records� general manager Glenn Wagner in the fall of 2000 and has been enjoying worldwide distribution for several months.
Over the past six years, Ceili Rain has become one of the most critically acclaimed bands to emerge out of Nashville. Ceili's current lineup�a group that Kathy Mattea affectionately describes as �a seven-headed musical joy-monster��is comprised of Halligan; lead guitarist Raymond Arias; drummer Chris Eddy (son of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Duane Eddy); bass player Bob �Buff� Harmon; three time, all Ireland button accordion champion Buddy Connolly; fiddle player Gretchen Priest; and tin whistle/bagpipe player Skip Cleavinger.
Halligan�like the fans and critics who continue to embrace him�has high hopes for Ceili Rain. �This music strikes a deep chord in people, because it derives from a collective yearning people have for God, for spirituality, for home, for togetherness. These songs are written to be inclusive and inviting�anyone who wants some joy out of life is apt to like them. We are not here to serve a particular group of people. The joy, laughter and sense of fellowship that�s felt at our shows is geared to everyone�all are welcome in this place.�