My holidays continue in glorious fashion. Yesterday I had a lovely day out with Sheila, which included a little shopping, seeing a movie (Wonder Woman – and yes, it is good), and having a couple of great meals.
On Tuesday, I bought five more albums:
- The Civil Wars “Barton Hollow”
- Daniel Romano “If I’ve Only One Time Askin’”
- Olivia Newton John and E.L.O. “Xanadu” (a guilty pleasure).
- Gillian Welch “Hell Among the Yearlings”
- Joan Shelley “Self-Titled”
I also recently got nine (yes, nine) Handsome Family albums in the mail, and I’d like to give a shout-out to Rennie Sparks. Rennie personally emailed me to thank me for my order and generally gave me a fanboy thrill that someone in the band was taking the time to say hello. You’re a class act, Rennie, and the fact that you and Brett make great music is nice too. OK – on to the next review.
Disc 1015 is…Signed and Sealed in Blood
Artist: Dropkick Murphys
Year of Release: 2013
What’s up with the Cover? This cover would make a kick-ass tattoo (and is likely inspired by – or the inspiration for – the song “Rose Tattoo”). In fact, based on the dozens of photos in the CD booklet, getting this tattoo is a bit of a thing among Murphys fans. I would get this as a t-shirt, but I prefer my tattoos to be unique, so I won’t be joining the throngs. For now, it is a great album cover.
How I Came To Know It: Last year I was poking around the Dropkick Murphys to see what their more recent albums were like (I hadn’t bought one since 2007). I found three I didn’t have and of those three, “Signed and Sealed in Blood” was the best of the lot.
How It Stacks Up: I have seven Dropkick Murphys albums. Of those seven, “Signed and Sealed in Blood” is pretty solid. I’ll put it right in the middle at fourth.
Ratings: 3 stars but almost 4
If you are familiar with the Dropkick Murphys, “Signed and Sealed in Blood” might feel like more of the kind of thing you’ve heard before. If you are a fan of the Dropkick Murphys, this will be a good thing.
The album’s first song is “The Boys are Back” seeming to announce their intention to give their fans more of what they love – a mix of Celtic folk and punk rock, bagpipes, lots of singing in unison, and a whole lot of triumphant energy.
The Murphys continue to sing about their favourites topics: blue collar life, loyalty to family and friends, nights on the town and their beloved Boston hockey and baseball teams. I love songs about all these things as well (go Bruins!), and few have done them as well as the Murphys over the years.
There is not a lot of new ground being broken here, but so what? Listening to the Murphys is like being invited to the best party on the block. The songs have memorable choruses that beg you to sing along, swaying back and forth with friends while you down a few pints. Won’t some of that pint get spilled with all that swaying? Absolutely! A little spilled beer is part of the feel of this music; raucous and just a little bit out of control.
The album could have used a few more references to my beloved Boston Bruins. The only one I could find was on “Rose Tattoo,” where lead singer Al Barr belts out:
“This one’s for our favourite game
Black and gold, we wave the flag.”
Despite this, “Rose Tattoo” isn’t about the Bruins per se, so much as it is an anthem to all the things the Murphys hold dear: family, true loves, and honour. This is a song that explains why people get tattoos in the first place; to commemorate the things that are nearest and dearest to their hearts. With its bright and confident mandolin riff, and rollicking melody it is also the best song on the album. Here you find the perfect mix of Dropkick Murphys, taking traditional Irish song structures and infusing them with a raw rock and roll delivery. The Pogues would be proud.
The Murphys love their sports history and “Jimmy Collins’ Wake” teaches us about an early baseball player who Wikipedia tells me perfected the bunt, and later led the 1903 Boston Americans to the first ever modern World Series championship. When I was in school I was a pretty skinny kid, but I was fast and I was a bit of a bunt expert myself. Watching those bigger, stronger kids curse as I got on base with foot speed and guile felt pretty good back then. Here’s to you, Jimmy Collins.
The album isn’t as angry as the Murphys’ early work, but they still take the time to work in some social commentary. “The Battle Rages On” revisits a Murphy theme of how the worker is sacrificed in the interests of the rich and powerful, and “Don’t Tear Us Apart” is a song about how the human race needs to come together and love one another. Messages of equal treatment and human love may have been covered by the Murphys before, but I don’t think you can have enough songs about these things.
As with a lot of Dropkick Murphys albums, “Signed and Sealed in Blood” ends with a ‘night on the town’ song. “End of the Night” is about how sometimes when the bar lights come on, you aren’t ready to go home. These nights aren’t great for your liver, but they are pretty great for your spirit, and the Murphys always manage to capture the triumph of the moment, and not the inevitable headache the next morning (although they do end the song with a punch-up that doesn’t go well for our heroes, so there is a healthy dose of realism in there as well).
There isn’t a lot of new ground on this record, but the Murphys walk their familiar roads with an enthusiasm that makes it feel new. If you’ve never heard a Murphys album before, you’ll like this one for an introduction. If you’ve heard plenty, then this record will be like meeting very old friends for a few pints. Maybe you’ve heard each other’s stories many times before, but it doesn’t make it any less fun to put your arms around each other’s shoulders and share a song or two.
Best tracks: The Boys Are Back, Prisoner’s Song, Rose Tattoo, Jimmy Collins’ Wake, Don’t Tear Us Apart, End of the Night