Before the duel guitars, before “The Boys Are Back in Town,” before all that, Thin Lizzy was bassist Phil Lynott, drummer Brian Downey, and guitarist Eric Bell, a couple of Irish rock and rollers in London. They already had two albums under their belt by 1973, their self titled and Shades of a Blue Orphanage, which were not exactly commercial successes. Finally, with this album, Vagabonds of the Western World, Thin Lizzy got something of a break, relatively speaking. “Whiskey in the Jar” became a hit, based off an old Irish folk song. This would prove to be the final album before Eric Bell called it quits, and the infamous double guitars of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson were brought in. On Vagabonds though, Eric made quite a closing statement, throwing out some great guitar work that helped make this album an excellent early Thin Lizzy record.
All three musicians were in top form on this album. The aforementioned Eric Bell plays his heart out on each song, with amazing solos on “The Hero and the Madman,” “Whiskey in the Jar,” and my personal favorite guitar-driven song, “The Rocker.” The solo in “The Hero and the Madman” is chilling, just like the song, it fits perfectly. “Whiskey in the Jar” has an amazing hook, I’m not sure if that’s from the original folk song or not, but it is excellent. I may be biased, but I like the Thin Lizzy version better than the cover by Metallica, I just feel Phil Lynott’s voice fits the song a lot better than James Hetfield’s does. And the sound that Eric gets out of his guitar to do the opener and most of his solo for “The Rocker” is excellent. The solo goes on for half the song, something that would be repeated in later Lizzy songs like “Emerald.”
Lynott has a great voice that works best on their traditional, most Irish-ish songs. His voice is smooth and melancholy on songs like the title track and “Little Girl in Bloom.” He can also be the (parodying?) arrogant rocker, and…just something else on “The Hero and the Madman.” The bass line for that song is perfect. It’s distant, brooding, and a little disconcerting. With each of his songs, he’s telling a story. “Mama Nature Said” is Mother Nature lamenting all the pollution. “Little Girl in Bloom” is about a girl about to marry, and she’s got a little secret. His voice melds well with his bass on those songs. It also gives a funky vibe, mixed with Bell’s guitar, on “I’m Gonna Creep Up on Ya.”
Brian Downey is an amazing drummer. I love it when he goes for something almost tribal with just the bass drums on songs like “Vagabonds of the Western World.” Yet, his snare keeps “The Hero and the Madman” running. For some reason, when I think of his drumming, I like to call it “outlaw drumming.” I don’t know why, I just like it, it seems to fit.
On this album, there’s an Irish flavor, there’s the blues (“Slow Blues,” another good guitar song), there’s straight-out rock and roll. However, there’s also “Randolph’s Tango.” It’s something else, not in the good way like “The Hero and the Madman,” which is a good different. “Randolph’s Tango” is nothing special, and seems very out of place. The hook reminds me of one of Queen’s campier numbers, which is fine for Queen, but it just does not sit right with Thin Lizzy.
Other than that, the variety on Vagabonds of the Western World keep things interesting, exciting, and imaginative. This album is quickly becoming my favorite Thin Lizzy album. It’s the last one with the great Eric Bell. It’ll be tough to knock off Jailbreak, which has the most awesome album insert jacket ever. Maybe one day, until then, listen to Vagabonds of the Western World, it’s an excellent Irish rock album.