Boiled in Lead

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Boiled in Lead
OriginMinneapolis, Minnesota, United States
GenresCeltic rock, Celtic punk, folk rock, Gypsy punk, alternative rock, worldbeat
Years active1983–present
LabelsThe Crack, Atomic Theory, Omnium
MembersMo Engel: percussion
Todd Menton: vocals, guitar, mandolin, bodhrán, whistle
Drew Miller: bass guitar, dulcimer
Haley Olson: Violin
Past membersRobin Adnan Anders
Marc Anderson
Michael Bissonnette
Jane Dauphin
Brian Fox
Mitch Griffin
Josef Kessler
Laura MacKenzie
Dean Magraw
Michael Ravaz
Adam Stemple
David Stenshoel[1][2][3][4]

Boiled in Lead is a rock/world-music band based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and founded in 1983. Tim Walters of MusicHound Folk called the group "the most important folk-rock band to appear since the 1970s."[10] Influential record producer and musician Steve Albini called the band's self-titled first album "the most impressive debut record from a rock band I've heard all year."[11] Their style, sometimes called "rock 'n' reel,"[1] is heavily influenced by Celtic music, folk, and punk rock, and has drawn them praise as one of the few American bands of the 1980s and 1990s to expand on Fairport Convention's rocked-up take on traditional folk.[12][13] Folk Roots magazine noted that Boiled in Lead's "folk-punk" approach synthesized the idealistic and archival approach of 1960s folk music with the burgeoning American alternative-rock scene of the early 1980s typified by Hüsker Dü and R.E.M.[4] The band also incorporates a plethora of international musical traditions, including Russian, Turkish, Bulgarian, Scottish, Vietnamese, Hungarian, African, klezmer, and gypsy music.[1][2][3][14] Boiled in Lead has been hailed as a pioneering bridge between American rock and international music,[1] and a precursor to Gogol Bordello and other gypsy-punk bands.[15] While most heavily active in the 1980s and 1990s, the group is still performing today, including annual St. Patrick's Day concerts in Minneapolis.[1][16] Over the course of its career, Boiled in Lead has released nearly a dozen albums and EPs, most recently 2012's The Well Below.

Although the band recorded Scottish writer John Leyden's ballad "Lord Soulis" under the title "The Man Who Was Boiled in Lead" on their first album,[2] the band's name is actually taken from the Irish murder ballad "The Twa Sisters" as performed by folk group Clannad on their album Dúlamán, as well as the New Year's tradition in Nordic countries of molybdomancy, or casting molten lead into snow to foretell the future.[17]


Boiled in Lead has gone through several significant lineup changes over the years, including three different lead singers. Bassist Drew Miller is the only original member who has played with the band in all incarnations. Miller, who grew up in Washington, D.C., was inspired by that city's hardcore punk scene to merge the energy and aggression of rock music with traditional folk.[18] The band was also inspired by British folk-rock groups like Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span.[19] The first lineup, formed in 1983, included Miller, vocalist/guitarist Jane Dauphin, fiddle player Brian Fox, and a drum machine dubbed "Amos Box." Second fiddler David Stenshoel and drummer Mitch Griffin joined in time for the band's first concert on St. Patrick's Day 1983 at the now-closed Goofy's Upper Deck in Minneapolis. The band's first release was a 45-minute live cassette-only album, Boiled Alive, in 1984,[19] which Simon Jones of Folk Roots described as "mean, nasty, and hugely enjoyable."[4] After Fox left the band, the remaining lineup recorded the band's debut studio album, BOiLeD iN lEaD, released in 1985. Dauphin sang most of the lead vocals, with Miller performing on a few including "Byker Hill"; after this album he would stay strictly an instrumentalist.[20]

A new singer/guitarist, Todd Menton, joined for the band's second album, Hotheads, which saw the band expanding beyond its Celtic-rock roots into both punkier and more eclectic world-music sounds. Flute player Laura MacKenzie joined as an official member briefly in 1986, and played as a guest on several subsequent albums.[4] Dauphin and Griffin left in 1988, and percussionist Robin Adnan Anders joined, bringing an even more diverse range of world-music elements into play for the band's third album From the Ladle to the Grave. Stenshoel departed before the band recorded 1990's Orb, though he is a guest musician on several tracks. Orb found Boiled in Lead exploring a wider range of traditional music styles than ever before, moving beyond Fairport Convention-influenced Celtic rock and adding material from Albania, Romania, Macedonia, Sweden, Appalachia, and Thailand. The album's title reflects this, suggesting an embrace of a truly global musical perspective.[18] Bassist Drew Miller attributed the widening of the band's sound to the eye-opening realization that their European audiences were just as comfortable with American musical styles as with any European forms. "We came to the decision that since we're Americans, there's no reason we have to play all Irish material. So we don't." Besides the many world-music influences, Orb also delves into punk rock and psychobilly with guitarist/vocalist Todd Menton's "Tape Decks All Over Hell."[21] In 1991, the band released Old Lead, a compilation of BOiLeD iN lEaD and Hotheads with two previously unreleased tracks recorded during the Hotheads sessions.

Menton left in 1992 and was replaced by Adam Stemple of Cats Laughing, leading the band in a harder-rocking direction on 1994's Antler Dance. The band's 1995 album Songs from the Gypsy was a song cycle written by Stemple and his Cats Laughing bandmate Steven Brust several years before Stemple joined Boiled in Lead. The songs also inspired Brust and Megan Lindholm's novel The Gypsy.[22]

For the band's 15th anniversary in 1998, it released a best-of compilation, Alloy, as well as a double-disc set of live songs and rarities, Alloy2. Further lineup changes included the return of Stenshoel in 1997, the departure of Stemple and return of Menton as well as the addition of guitarist Dean Magraw in 2005, Anders' departure in 2008 and new drummer Marc Anderson in 2009. Magraw and Anderson left in 2016 and were replaced by percussionist Michael Bissonnette.

After a long absence from recording, the band returned for a 25th-anniversary album titled Silver.[16][23] The album again featured a strong Celtic flavor but also included Middle Eastern and Algerian influences on songs like "Berber" and "Menfi."

In 2012, Boiled in Lead recorded a four-song EP, The Well Below, which included a cover of Appalachian folk singer Roscoe Holcomb's "Wedding Dress" as well as the band's take on Irish songwriter Christy Moore's murder ballad "The Well Below the Valley."[24][25]

Michael Bissonnette left the band in 2020, and was replaced in 2023 by drummer Mo Engel, who also plays in Miller's other group Kinda Fonda Wanda.[26]

David Stenshoel died on September 16, 2021, from squamous cell carcinoma of the gingiva, at age 71.[27][28] The band played a memorial concert in his honor the following month, with a lineup including both current and former members of the group.[29]

Violinist Haley Olson joined in March 2023.[30]

In popular culture[edit]

The band has had a cross-pollinating creative relationship with a number of writers in the Twin Cities fantasy scene, most obviously in the interplay between the band's 1995 album Songs from the Gypsy and Steven Brust and Megan Lindholm's novel The Gypsy.[22] Additionally, the character Aibynn in Brust's novel Phoenix is based on Anders, who was Brust's drum teacher.[31]

Both Boiled in Lead and the Hotheads album appear in Emma Bull's 1987 urban fantasy novel War for the Oaks; the band itself has a cameo as the opening act for the protagonists' climactic performance at Minneapolis nightclub First Avenue, while the album appears during a quieter moment earlier in the book, when the main character plays the record while having a conversation.[32]


Awards and honors[edit]

Boiled in Lead's star on the outside mural of the Minneapolis nightclub First Avenue

Boiled in Lead has won multiple Minnesota Music Awards: Hotheads won for Best Celtic/Bluegrass/Folk Album in 1987, and From the Ladle to the Grave won Album/CD of the Year in 1989.[1]

The band has been honored with a star on the outside mural of the Minneapolis nightclub First Avenue,[33] recognizing performers that have played sold-out shows or have otherwise demonstrated a major contribution to the culture at the iconic venue.[34] Receiving a star "might be the most prestigious public honor an artist can receive in Minneapolis," according to journalist Steve Marsh.[35]


Studio albums and EPs[edit]

Compilations and live albums[edit]

  • Boiled Alive (The Crack, 1984, cassette release)
  • Old Lead (Omnium, 1991)—a collection of BOiLeD iN lEaD and Hotheads
  • Boiled Alive '92 (The Crack, 1992, cassette release)
  • Alloy: A Fifteen-Year Collection (Omnium, 1998)
  • Alloy2 (Omnium, 1998)


  • "Fück The Circus" (Susstones/Omnium, 1994)

Solo projects and associated bands[edit]

Besides the band's connection to Cats Laughing and Steven Brust, several members of Boiled in Lead have also released solo projects and work with other bands:

  • Miller formed the group Felonious Bosch in 2003 with members of other Twin Cities bands including drummer Renee Bracchi of The Blue Up? and Machinery Hill, blending European medieval music with rock on a 2003 self-titled EP and the albums New Dark Ages (2006), Toybox (2010), and 2012's The Bent Slinky Session and Phenomena. The band also performed on the audio book of the 2011 urban fantasy anthology Welcome To Bordertown, part of the Borderland series by Terry Windling, backing author Steven Brust on a reading of his poem "Run Back Across The Border". Miller also produced five additional tracks oin the audio book, creating backing music with Stenshoel and Bosch singer Kari Tauring for poems by Jane Yolen and Neil Gaiman, among others. The group disbanded in 2012.[5][36] Miller is also part of Paris 1919, an avant-garde musical collective led by Chris Strouth.[37] Miller formed Kinda Fonda Wanda, a rockabilly group inspired by Wanda Jackson, in 2018; the group has released one album, Aces, in 2022.[26]
  • Menton has released four solo albums: 2003's Punts, 2004's Where Will You Land?, 2008's The Dolmen Field, and 2015's "Rosie in the Stars".[6]
  • Anders has recorded three solo albums under his own name, 1995's Blue Buddha, 1998's Omaiyo, and 2003's Cantar Tambor Bailar: To Sing to Drum to Dance[7] as well as three with the group Darbuki Kings, 2006's Doumtekastan, 2008's Lawrence of Suburbia, and 2009's Been Laden You Too Long.[8] He has also performed with Iowa folk musician Greg Brown on the albums Dream Cafe and The Poet Game, and played on the 1989 3 Mustaphas 3 album Heart of Uncle.
  • Marc Anderson has recorded as a sideman on dozens of other artists' albums including Steve Tibbetts and Peter Ostroushko, and released two albums of his own work, 1993's Timefish and 2002's Ruby.[9]
  • Stemple released a solo album, 3 Solid Blows To the Head, in 2006.
  • Magraw performed in a duo for many years with Peter Ostroushko and has also performed with Tim Sparks, John Gorka and many other artists.[38] He has released seven solo albums.


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    18. ^ a b DeRogatis, Jim (December 12, 1990), "Celtodelic Worldbeat Rock & Reel", City Pages
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    30. ^ "2023 – Sota". Boiled in Lead. July 8, 2023. Retrieved August 5, 2023.
    31. ^ "Books by Steven Brust - The Dream Cafe". Archived from the original on February 9, 2007.
    32. ^ Emma Bull (November 1, 2004). War for the Oaks: A Novel. Tom Doherty Associates. pp. 61–. ISBN 978-0-7653-4915-6.
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    38. ^ Espeland, Pamela (November 14, 2008). "Dean Magraw, musical explorer". MinnPost. Archived from the original on May 7, 2011. Retrieved July 1, 2016.

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