“The Meanest Of Times” (Deluxe) by Dropkick Murphys

Artist: Dropkick Murphys
Title: “The Meanest Of Times”
Label: Born & Bred Records
Release Date: 3/11/2008
Genre: Celtic Punk
Rating: 4/5

Begosh & Begorrah, tis Saint Paddy’s Day and The Dropkick Murphy’s have returned with a special edition of their hit album “The Meanest Of Times”. In celebration of the day and their Emerald Isle origins the CD is repackaged to have a little “Wearin’ O’ The Green” of its own and not only comes with five bonus tracks but also a DVD that is loaded with special extras. Given our thoughts for the original album haven’t changed we are lining out that copy once again to remind you and we will address the additions afterward. Read on me lads and lasses.

“Having more Metal blood running through my veins than that which is Punk associated sometimes finds me being out of touch with a band like The Dropkick Murphy’s but luckily I am a quick study and able to appreciate the likes of the music found on their sixth release “The Meanest Of Times”. The seven member group from Beantown (or Boston to those readers worldwide who have no idea what that means) have had a steady and loyal following for years but this was raised exponentially with their music appearing in the Martin Scorsese mob epic “The Departed”. Having your songs in an Academy Award winning motion picture would certainly allow a band to rest upon their laurels just a little bit but this would not be the case for the Murphy’s who instead deliver a scorching, boot stomping, raise your pints into the air bunch of tunes that talk about family life and friendship, as well as remaining loyal to ones roots and beliefs. The charge into Celtic Punker turf begins with “Famous For Nothing” and this one gets you started right as the double chorus and bagpipes sing to you about alcohol fueled memories. “God Willing” keeps the toes tapping and is quite honorable in its message about friendship as it quotes that the best laid plans can all change by tomorrow and how you never know when the last time you will see your friends might be. “God willing I will see you on the other side”, it sings and while a rather ominous notation it is one that seems to lean on us a little about appreciating those around us just in case. The downside to being a touring musician and leaving ones home behind is sung about during “Echoes On “A” Street” and this could have very well been a livelier Springsteen track based on the lyrical flow. One of my favorite tracks is “(F)lannigan’s Ball” as I just love how the bagpipes and vocals work across the whole tune and “Fairmount Hill” finds the band re-doing an Irish traditional tune called “Spancil Hill” with new lyrics and arrangement. The song is probably the most somber of the albums offerings as it picks up speed again immediately after it completes.

As I listened to the whole thing in sequence I did not find it over the top in its Celtic feel and instead determined that these elements were used a little less than I had discovered were done on the earlier records. We still find the tin whistles and banjos and pipes presented for our aural pleasure but the listener will not feel as though they are listening to an albums worth of jigs when they put this one on and instead just a healthy dose of the Emerald Isle mixed in with some well thought out Punk riffs. The band also kicks some ass during their seeming anti-war statement in “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya” and this takes the traditional tune “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” and re-arranges it just a little bit. The albums closer is a perfect track called “Never Forget” and its one that’s sings about how we should never forget when we have love and family to count on. I thought this was a very powerful message and think that it’s something we could all use a little reminding about from time to time. Made up of a whopping seven members the band features the following players: Ken Casey (vocals, bass guitar), All Barr (vocals), Matt Kelly (drums), James Lynch (guitar), Tim Brennan (mandolin, accordion, banjo, bouzouki, tin whistle and acoustic guitar), Marc Orrel (guitar, accordion, piano) and Scruffy Wallace (bagpipes). Everyone in the group seems to provide backing vocals which adds to the big sound that they have on the recording. This is the bands first release on their independent vanity label and the album is packaged to look like a photo album and quite beautiful to look at but the interior finds no photos and just a lyric book to guide you along the bands path a little bit more. I liked how each song has the band explaining a little bit about the track that you are listening to before the lyrics are viewed and feel more bands need to offer this up to their public. I did not like discovering that there are several different versions of the album as between the I-tunes, European and vinyl versions I found that there were different tunes presented that were not available on this domestic US release being reviewed. Years ago I was more accepting of this practice but in today’s music buying world we are finding people much more hesitant about purchasing physical music and by making too many different versions in different regions is beginning to backfire on the bottom line. I really enjoyed this one and it was good enough for me to seek out some of their earlier material. I have to admit that the amount of ass-kicking and drinking that I wanted to do after listening to this CD made me glad that I was only half Irish. Now, would someone please get me a pint of Guinness.”

The bonus tracks begin with the boys own version of the Thin Lizzy classic “Jailbreak” and while it’s quite close to the original, they managed to slip in a little more of that Irish flair. “Thick Skin Of Defiance” is a good track that lines out “you’re gonna fight the world how about facing you” and I took that as before we stand defiant to that which is around us, perhaps we should fight any struggles within ourselves first. “Forever” was a wonderful ballad that found the singers accompanied mostly by accordion, pipes and whistles until the majestic drum rolls step up to add a little power to it. I can picture this as an incredible live tune that gets the pints raised and the camaraderie much more appreciated. “Breakdown” is a decent enough rocker that closes out the new stuff which is all capped off by the original version of “Flannigan’s Ball”. The great thing about their inclusion of the bonus tracks is that the included booklet also features liner notes and lyrics for them and this was fantastic as many groups fail to include that on such a re-issue.

The DVD: The bonus DVD features the video for “The State Of Massachusetts” and a “making of” feature for it. The video for “Flannigan’s Ball” which shows the band as they record it with Spider Stacy of the Pogues. There is also a mini-movie that is centered on the bands charity breakfast and during this segment they perform acoustic tracks of “Wild Rover”, “Forever”, and “Boys On The Docks”. They show a lot of talking about the breakfast so many might find that part boring, but you can always zip through it unless you want to hear the things being said. The DVD closes out with the song “Johnny We Hardly Knew Ya” and the footage for this one comes from the bands victory trip with the Boston Red Sox. New York Yankee and Met fans will probably bypass this portion of the film.

So there ‘Ye have it. A veritable Pot o’ Gold of music and video delivered by a leprechaun sporting a bright green Mohawk and Doc Marten boots. I really enjoyed the extras and it increased my appreciation of the original product quite a bit. This is a recommendation for anyone who likes driving Punk songs with a solid melody and also fans of all sorts of Celtic Rock.

Track Listing:
1. Famous For Nothing
2. God Willing
3. The State Of Massachusetts
4. Tomorrow’s Industry
5. Echoes On “A” Street
6. Vices And Virtues
7. Surrender
8. (F)lannigan’s Ball
9. I’ll Begin Again
10. Fairmount Hill
11. Loyal To No One
12. Shattered
13. Rude Awakenings
14. Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya
15. Never Forget
16. Jailbreak – bonus
17. Thick Skin Of Defiance – bonus
18. Forever (2007) – bonus
19. Breakdown – bonus
20. Flannigan’s Ball (original) – bonus

Official Website: www.dropkickmurphys.com

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