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Fortuitous twists mark life of Dubs

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Last August, a year ago, the Young Dubliners headlined a concert at the Red Butte Garden, which vocalist/guitarist Keith Roberts describes as a turning point.

"After that tour, we lost a couple of band members (guitarist Randy Woolford and drummer Jon Mattox). They decided to move on," Roberts said during a telephone interview from a hotel in New York City. "We'd already lost (mandolinist) Paul (O'Toole) and, though I knew the band had to carry on, I felt a little twitch in the back of my head telling me it was all going to die."

Fortunately the band didn't break apart. Instead, it gained a few new members and, according to the Irish-born Roberts, "is stronger than ever."

The Young Dubliners — Roberts, tin whistler/saxophonist Jeff Dellisanti, new guitarist Bob Boulding, bassist Bren Holmes, new drummer David Ingraham and fiddler/mandolinist Mark Epting — will open for John Hiatt at Kingsbury Hall on the University of Utah campus tonight. The music will begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at the Kingsbury Hall box office.

Life with the Dubs — as the band is known by its fans — isn't always something that's easy to plan, said Roberts, who now lives in Los Angeles, Calif.

"Just take a look at our Web site," he said with a laugh. "The tour dates change constantly."

Like the band's itinerary, there were more changes that occurred, in addition to the lineup.

"When we were holding rehearsals for a new drummer and all, we were approached with a major-label record deal with Higher Octave, which is a part of Virgin Records," Roberts said. "We had all these songs that we were ready to record, but we talked with the label and there wasn't enough budget to market us as a bona-fide rock band that happens to play Celtic music.

"So we all decided to approach everything as a Celtic/world music/rock band," Roberts explained. "That way we wouldn't only focus on breaking through in the United States but throughout the world."

With that, the band took back all the songs and began writing and rearranging new and old tunes that would eventually appear on the new album, "Red."

"We found we had only 18 days to record and mix the album," said Roberts. "And we fought all the way. Luckily we had hired a good producer, Thom Panunzio, who has worked with Alice In Chains and U2. He pushed us along and found the sound we had been looking for all our lives."

One of the last songs the band recorded for the album was the title cut, which was written by Elton John collaborator Bernie Taupin.

"We had always heard Bernie was a fan of our band," Roberts said. "It was nice to hear, but I didn't quite believe it. I mean this was Bernie Taupin, for heaven's sake. We would sign CDs and send them off to him because he would request them. But we didn't know if he really received them or not.

"Well, one day we got a call from our record label, and they said Bernie had a song for us," remembered Roberts. "So I sped to meet him in San Diego and listened to the lyrics. Nothing came to me. Not one single ounce of inspiration.

"It was great meeting him, and we didn't want to waste the trip, so he pulled out some more lyrics, and I fell in love with one, which he had originally written for Elton back in the '70s. It had the word 'kerosene' in it, and that caught my attention. How many songs have that word in it?"

The song was "Red," which would eventually become the title track of the Young Dubliner's new major-label album.

"Within the next few minutes, the music, the chorus and the bridge all came to me," Roberts said. "I took it back to the guys in the band, and they really gave it life. I mean, they are all such great musicians, and they all put their parts into it, and we did the song. We've really found a terrific lineup, and we've found a good sound for us."

E-MAIL: scott@desnews.com