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The Porters: Anywhere But Home
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I was familiar with The Porters from their 2001 debut, 'A Tribute to Arthur Guinness,' which was essentially a CD of rocked up traditional standards. As such, however, it failed to leave any lasting impression on me aside from containing a couple of fairly respectable covers, (“Irish Soldier Laddie” and “Four Green Fields” being the ones that stick out the most in my, granted, overly-perforated memory.)

In any case, it was with only minimal enthusiasm that I decided to sample their latest release, 'Anywhere But Home' while trolling iTunes for new music. Quite a surprise, here, as this whole disc proved to be a confident, and welcome addition to my Paddy-punk rotation.

Musically, the band appears driven primarily by the guitar and accordion, but is peppered liberally with mandolin and whistle as well as an occasional fiddle. Also, still present are the gruff, gravelly vocals from the first CD, but practiced into a naturalness with a result far more listenable and sounding somewhere between those of St. Bushmill’s Choir, The Skels and Popes-era MacGowan.

Although the band hails from the Düsseldorf, Germany area, one cannot detect any betrayal of this; all lyrics are in perfect English, and without accent, (unlike a fellow German paddy-punk band’s 'Foggy Dew' rendition, “Vas down ze glen vun Easter morn...”) Nor is there any novelty act stuff or a German-influence hybrid effect in the music. Just straight ahead, energetic, Irish-folk-punk sounds. And, after repeated listens, a number of tracks stood out on the this CD and not a dog to be found.

True, there is no major innovation or departure from formula, or anything we haven’t heard before from others in the genre, but 'Anywhere But Home' is a strong release in the vein of Greenland Whalefishers and The Swaggering Growlers, and, with 14 tracks and clocking in at just under an hour, its Paddy-Punk-Per-Penny value should also earn it your average bean counter’s nod of approval.

Grade: The Porters' 'Anywhere But Home' comes in on The Toler Scale™ with a grade of a solid, clockwork “B+” for above average, which translates to your average listener as “worth the purchase” and ”worthy of repeated plays.”

But don’t take my word for it, check ‘em out first on iTunes, and dowload the whole disc for $9.99!

Review: Christopher Toler, THE Blathering Gommel

Irish Stew of Sindidun: So Many Words
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The first thing I noticed when i first cracked open the plastic, tossed the CD in my CD player and let the first strains come to my ears was 3 things: 1) that there is no electric guitar (except for one of the songs) only an acoustic. 2) The singer (Bojan Petroviæ)'s voice is different. It's the voice of a Serbian who just learned English a week ago and to supplement the accent, he had an Irish language instructor. 3) the band play with such energy that the absence of a crashing electric guitar is not noticed. For many songs, Bojan's voice accompanies the acoustic for the first part of the song and then the rest of the band joins in. Bojan's somber Serbian accent renders track with needed severity in some cases and an almost humorous irony. At the risk of being horribly incorrect, I think they sound like Siobhan, acoustic but still punky. There are only a few tracks that stand out which make the price a little too much even if (like me) you gotta have'em. We start off with a nice upbeat little track called McGee's Daughter. The whistle/fiddle/drums combined with that ever prominent voice provide a sharp, fun melody. The next track, Why, asks the eternal question in a sad tone which doesn't make it any less of a great track. We skip ahead to Patrick Malone, a dark ambiance around a rousing song about a man and his problems with the drink. We skip again, to my favorite track on the album, Stout. The acoustic guitar and fiddle anchor a rollicking song with an awesome chorus. "Fuckin' stout, fuckin' stout. I'll drink all night, and I don't care if it's wrong or right, stout, fuckin' stout, I drink all night and then in the morning I'm so fuckin' drunk!", awesome track. The next track of note is a reworking of the classic, Black & Tans. The lyrics bring a smile to your lips as Bojan slurs tries to pronounce the complicated phrases and the jig-like energy takes some of the usual sadness which so often surrounds other covers of this track. Right behind it comes Skibereen, the song starts lament-like as Bojan's somber Serbian accent renders the sadness of having to leave Ireland until the guitar, fiddle and banjo join in to provide a backbeat. All in all, while I love this CD, there probably aren't that many others who would shell out the copious amounts of cash(almost $30!) required to obtain this unless they really like it. I wouldn't recommend it if you don't already love 'em.

Review: Bigmac

Prydein: Loud Pipes
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When Motorhead first started out in the ‘70’s there was a comment made – a compliment actually – that if Motorhead moved in next door to you that your lawn would die – I keep thinking of that comment after listening to “Loud Pipe’s”. Though I have a feeling that if Prydein and their 2 bagpipers moved in next door to you not only would your lawn die but they would finish off your trees and maybe any domestic animals with in a block (a compliment and also a warning to cat owners actually). These guys are so loud with a massive guitar sound (think Malcolm Young riffing on classic AC/DC) and dueling bagpipes. The title of the CD “Loud Pipe’s” is misleading. I would have gone with “Loud Guitars and Really Bloody Loud Pipes”.

Various: Paddy Rock Vol.3
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Hats off to Paddy Rock's John Bowels (again) for putting together another great compilation of the finest Punk and Celtic Rock. And as with his previous comps he's managed to surprise me with a host of fine new bands even to my ears and of course some great bands well known over in Shite'n'Onions world and a couple of tracks I actually wanted to use on Shite'n'Onions V3. Highlights' include Catgut Mary of course, the Finns Fury powerful cover of 'The Auld Triangle', and then new and reinvigorated Pubcrawlers. This has inspired me to get the finger outta me own arse and start pulling together Shite'n'Onions V3 - incase John nabs the reaminder of my tracks for his V4. Copies of Paddy Rock Vol. 3 are available here Pick it up and help keep a great radio show on the air.

Pete Berwick: Ain't no Train Outta Nashville
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Chicago born Pete Berwick started out his career in the early eighties fronting various Chicago punk bands before moving south and absorbing the sounds of his adopted new home town of Nashville. Combining both the big city punk influence and the country sounds of Nashville, Berwick has made one of the best pieces of American rock'n'roll with attitude I've ever heard. Think Steve Earle, meets The Georgia Satellites meets Chuck Berry while the lyrics bring small town Midwest America alive very much in the way Springsteen brought working class Jersey to life. If your looking for a perfect piece of Americana then this is it.

Kirt McLeod/Seven Nations: A Celtic Rock Tribute to the Cure
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Definitely a strange one here. The Cure and Celtic rock is not something I would ever think would go together but Celtic Rockers, Seven Nations have pulled together a 10 track tribute covering some of The Cure’s best know tracks (“Boys Don’t Cry”, “Love Cats”, “Why Can’t I Be you” etc.) – now to be honest while The Cure were huge in my school back in the day, I never liked them – my tastes then were more along the lines of Megadeth and Judas Priest. I will admit The Cure wrote some very fine songs. So what is a Celtic Rock tribute like? Well, very much true to the sound of The Cure, guitars a bit louder then the jingly pop sound of old and layered on top is a Celtic wall of sound – Bagpipes, Fiddles, flutes and all. Kirt McLeod does Robert Smith very well (though occasionally hitting some annoying falsetto territory). If you remember The Cure or looking for some great songs given a Celtic twist check this oooot.

Bread & Roses: Deep River Day
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Deep River Day is the first full-length release from Boston’s own “orchestra” folk punksters Bread & Roses (out on the excellent Fistolo Records). I would describe Bread & Roses as old school Americana – country and bluegrass played with a punk spirit and a huge nod to Woodie Guthrie (all on acoustic instruments of course - mandolin, upright bass, banjo, fiddle). The cover of the traditional "Babylon is Fallen (To Rise No More)" is outstanding. See’em at a soup kitchen near you, soon.

Fiddlers Green: Drive Me Mad!
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Fiddlers Green are a long running (since 1990) self described Irish-speedfolk band from Germany. ‘Drive Me Mad!’ their 12th full length release, featuring an incredible 20 tracks – both original and traditional standards – all squashed onto one disk. The sound occupies a space on the scale somewhere between The Pogues and Flogging Molly with a clear love of The Dubliners. Lots of fun and value for money.

The Vandon Arms: Losers and Boozers
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While digging through iTunes one day, (I love how iTunes lets me sample every song before committing to a purchase,) avoiding work, linking from one “sounds like,” or “also purchased” to another, I found the six-song EP, “Losers and Boozers”, by The Vandon Arms.

The Vandon Arms is a four piece band from Des Moines, Iowa, comprised of a bass, guitar, drums, and a mandolin. That’s it. No fiddle, pipes, or even a decent whistle to be found. So at first I was dubious. Don’t get me wrong. I love the mandolin, I even own and occasionally torture the missus with one of several every now and again!

But was a single mando enough “folk” for a good folk-punk band? Maybe, but The Vandon Arms aren’t just a good folk-punk band, they are a great one! A minute into track one, and I was reminded that instruments do not make the band. I forgot my initial apprehensions and began really getting into these guys.

The thing I first noticed about TVA was how tight and professional they sounded. These guys came together as solid as any band at the height of their career, and possess a sound somewhere between Dropkick Murphys, The Tossers and Saint Bushmills Choir, with some of the best elements of each.

The EP opener was the traditional foot-stomper, “Muirsheen Durkin”. Executed with the appropriate enthusiasm, track 1 shows off the strength of the mandolin/electric guitar combo and the band’s great use of chorus.

“Losers and Boozers” is an introspective, if unrepentant, self analysis delivered with tempo changes swinging from a last-call, barfly lament to a rowdy, fist-pumping chant that must whip a live audience into a 12-step-dropouts' frenzy. This one is probably my favorite track off this EP.

Track 3 is the ubiquitous “Whiskey in the Jar,” which sits precariously on the line between a respectfully traditional rendition and a high-speed, punked-out anthem. A very well done version that had me wondering how a voice so relaxed could sound so effortless moving along with a song sung so quickly.

The “Legend of Johnny Grey” relates a folk hero-style tale of rebelling against oppression and shows how TVA use the mandolin as a perfect bridge between the guitar and vocals.

“Brothers in Arms” is a Dropkicks-esque mug-swinger about camaraderie, I assume of the band members, starting with a glass-clinking sing-along that morphs into an upbeat, happy tune that somehow both sounds sincere and avoids sounding sappy.

Closing track “The Journey” is a drums-free, acoustic number that comes across as heartfelt and thoughtful but maintains a really nice pace.

Suffice to say, I was very happy to find this EP on iTunes. If this is a hint at some of the new blood in the Celtic Folk-Punk Genre, than the future is looking good.

Review: Christopher Toler, THE Blathering Gommel

Jack Flash: Take Notice
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Continuously scouring the Internet to find new and unfamiliar music, I recently ran across and subsequently downloaded some songs from the MySpace page for the Australian bush band, Jack Flash. Very shortly later, I knew I wanted to order and write a review of their EP, ‘Take Notice’.

As I listened to it, (many times now,) I was overcome by the urge to classify and/or categorize their sound, as I found it different yet somewhat familiar. The first familiarity I recognized was the prickly, sharp, staccato sound that reminded me of certain other Australian folk-punk bands like Mutiny and Roaring Jack. This was achieved in part by some hyperactive, short-stroked fiddle and a percussive mandolin at the front of the mix.

On top of these were vocals that perch on that narrow spectrum between Roaring Jack’s Alistair Hulett and Midnight Oil’s Peter Garrett, further defining the parameters the “Aussie sound” classification that my mind was developing.

And, of course, the songs themselves reinforced this, with lyrics invoking social awareness, such as the environmentally conscious, kick-ass, title track; containing tales of local significance, such as the track ‘The Legend of Stu;’ and even a blistering version of the traditional ‘Lachlan Tigers.’

The six-piece Jack Flash, made of electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, drums, fiddle, mandolin and even an occasional harmonica, combine these above mentioned elements to carve a niche, (in my head, anyways,) in Celtic folk-punk’s smaller sub-genre, (sub-sub-genre?) of Australian folk-punk. In doing so, the band creates a sound that stands out from the that of the majority of the pack.

One last thing… At the time of this writing, four of these six songs are available to hear on the bands MySpace page, including an acoustic, live version of the title track, ‘Take Notice.’ But for my money, the cleaned-up, plugged-in, spit-shined, mixed and balanced studio version of this song on the EP was worth the price of the disc alone, not just because I now have two different versions of the song, but because when this thing shifts into gear and burns on all cylinders, it really gets the blood to boilin.’

Check these guys out!

Review by Christopher Toler, THE Blathering Gommel

Dicey Riley: TPA
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Everyone has their local Irish rock band in their area that they would go see every week down at the pub to drink and dance with. Everyone also has their favorite bang around sweater that they wear when they are hung over sitting around the house wishing your head would stop pounding the songs you sang the night before. Just as you wouldn’t present your beat up old sweater down the runway of a fashion show, you should'nt really try and make the local band a star.

This band based in Northampton MA has always had their problems, way too much drinking, screwing up lyrics, falling off beat and looking all out of sorts during their sets, but enough about the fans in the audience we are here to review their CD TPA, or Ten Penny Ale. Dicey Riley has been around for years in the club scene in Western Mass and this is their second real effort in recording. Unfortunately for all of us it is rocked out Trad songs. These are fun songs while you’re drinking in a bar like O’ Driscoll’s in Wilbraham, however stuck in rush hour trying to get out town, the last thing you wanna hear is Mike trying to belt out Cockles and Mossels.

Why would any band commit musical suicide like this? Free studio time, this was a commissioned CD for The Olde Burnside Brewery in east Hartford CT. As I remember it, Bob the owner was interested in more traditional music than originals. So boys and girls this is what you get when you sell out. Lasers do nothing to compliment this bands talents, in fact I believe they sound so much better in person that this CD should be relegated to the plastic paddy pile, go find their “No Pardon from the Pope” EP. At least that contained more originals, although the production quality was not as good as what was on this one.

I am sorry Dicey faithful this CD is their best sounding CD technically, however I need like twelve beers to listen to this thing and even then I still will be wanting for something more. Everyone plays well and there is almost enough bagpipes for me, but it is not a good representative CD to the bands talents and live acts. It was done for one reason and one reason only, beer promotions. Maybe next time guys.

Review: Therover413

Dropkick Murphys: The Meanest of Times (Sean Holland review)
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Dropkick Murphys loom so large over the current Irish Punk/Celtic scene that it’s hard to give an objective opinion about their new album. Their importance cannot be understated. Indeed Dropkick Murphys are a major reason why many bands on this website exist; in fact, it’s a primary reason why the website itself exists.

Added to this somewhat grandiose opening statement is the fact that, while the band has been huge in it’s beloved Boston for years, recent national exposure via “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” in Martin Scorsese’s Academy Award winning film The Departed is now making them huge nationwide. If one looks at record sales, one can determine that there exists something of an event surrounding this latest offering. However, when a genre-defining band releases a new album in this sort of Boston/Celtic Zeitgeist, there also exists a weird type of conundrum; there will be longtime fans who offer nothing but support, there will be detractors that cry “sell-outs”, there will be an embarrassing contingent of fleeting fans in Bruins jerseys who hop aboard all the latest trends, and then there will just be the regular Joe Bud Light who likes the band for whatever reason, with however much fervor they so choose. And that’s simply the way of the music fan. And somewhere in the middle lies the truth about this record.

American Heritage defines “evolution” as 1. A gradual process in which something changes into a different and usually more complex or better form. 2. The process of developing. Dropkick Murphys have, for better or worse, been evolutionary since their inception. It took me a second to realize this, but unless you are Cock Sparrer or AC/DC, the natural process is to evolve, if only in a small way, to satisfy themselves as artists, and to make the type of music they have the technical chops to make. Bands evolve. This is nothing new, but rather a well-worn cliché with the rock’n’roll canon.

In truth, bassist Ken Casey has said that the band now is pretty much how he envisioned it from the beginning, he simply didn’t have the resources to put together all of the instrumentation he wanted, in 1996 in the fledgling Boston punk/oi! scene. Fair enough. And while I’m often times nostalgic for the Do or Die 4 piece that played basement shows in Chicago, I respect this band, and put them on s pedestal above many classic oi!/punk bands who also evolved. Why? Because unlike groups like your SSD’s or Stiff Little Fingers (to use two of DKM’s longtime influences) this band’s evolution did not include making music that I’d consider far less than stellar.

The results of The Meanest of Times? I’ve had the chance to listen to the album many times over, and I can safely say that it’s my favorite Dropkick Murphys record since Sing Loud, Sing Proud. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed each post-Sing Loud album on it’s own merits, and I feel they all have their strong suits, but I think The Meanest of Times is the most solid of the three. The most cohesive and complete.

The album kicks off with one of my favorite tracks, Famous For Nothing, which details the woes, but also the good times, of growing up in Catholic schools. The track has a nice driving rock’n’roll punch to it, and a catchy-as-hell pre-chorus and chorus.

From here, the album runs the gamut of styles that have influenced Dropkick Murphys since day one: punk, Irish, hardcore, traditional and others in-between.

One of the things that really drags down modern day oi!/streetpunk is badly clichéd lyrics. One only needs to look at something like The State of Massachusetts to see that lyrics need not always be about the same tired barroom crap. Probably the most poignant on the record, dealing with drug problems, and the reality a lot of kids grow/grew up with, it really does show how the band have matured.

To be honest, a few of the past choices of traditionals have left me a bit under whelmed, but the inclusion of Flannigan’s Ball (a reworking of an old Irish tune Lannigan’s Ball) works as well as any they’ve ever done. Why? Something about the song seems dark to me, and hearing Dubliner Ronnie Drew’s vocals, mixed with Pogues whistler Spider Stacey, mixed with Ken and Al really works. Ronnie Drew has an amazing voice, and hearing him speed it up for this tune was really something, and for lack of a better word, “cool.”

Shattered is a nice, simple, straight-ahead hardcore offering, sans any Irish flavor, that shows the Dropkick Murphys have lost none of their Boston Hardcore roots, and showcases drummer Matt Kelly at his best. The inclusion of such songs is a treat for me, and reminds me of the old days. I, for one, appreciate songs on the album like this one and I’ll Begin Again the break away from the full-on Irish flavor that the majority possesses.

An example of how the full-on Irish flavor works amazingly is Rude Awakenings, which sounds like it could well be a hundred’s years old Irish tune. It truly sounds like something The Dubliners could have recorded. The banjo playing is outstanding, the pipes compliment the tune to a tee, and the age-old subject matter of getting drunk, and getting into misadventures with the opposite sex, is a can’t miss – passed down from generations of drunken, horny Micks to Ken Casey’s pen.

The album closes on a universal theme for a band that has always remained loyal to it’s city, it’s friends and it’s family. Never Forget, singing the virtues of such loyalties, succinctly wraps up an album that, indeed, seems to preach these very virtues from start to finish.

Certainly this band has evolved, but the core beliefs that started the band remain intact, and the music never suffers. The band may grow, and the fan base as well (and I can’t think of a more deserving group of folks for this to happen to) but the values remain the same. To reiterate, “evolution: A gradual process in which something changes into a different and usually more complex or better form.”

More complex. And better.

Review: Sean Holland