First things first – I am an unabashed fan of the Dropkick Murphys early material. The early seven-inch singles, “Boys on the Docks” and “Do Or Die” represented to me a refreshing working-class view of modern American life, all mixed in with a healthy dose of parochial Boston pride and a streetwise sensibility. I still feel they are great additions to the American Oi and punk scenes.
Once Mike McColgan left and the band expanded into a larger group, adding mandolin, whistles, bagpipes, etc, the two eras essentially became two different bands – one, an American streetrock/Oi! outfit and the other, a more Pogues-style romp – and I remain a fan of both, although I prefer the early material by quite a bit, and one reason is because of McColgan’s unique vocals.
Mike is back (with original DKM drummer Jeff Erna as well) with his new band, the Street Dogs and this 7 song demo. Does this material reach the heights McColgan achieved with DKM? Eh…. No. But in places, in parts, it’s close. Those of you familiar with the early songs know Mike is a damn fine songwriter, and “Road of the Righteous” “Do or Die” and “Caught in a Jar” remain some of my all-time favorite DKM work. This demo is the vein of old school McColgan tunes like the aforementioned songs (no Irish stuff like “Caught in a Jar.” Best to leave that to the already over saturated Irish punk scene anyway) and “Front Seat” and “Take It or Leave It.” Fans will recognize the same stylings in these tunes –SLF-style sing-a-longs – but it seems to be missing the ‘hardman’ edge that Mike had when he was a member of the Dropkicks. It’s still punk rock, but just not as heavy and chest-poundingly proud sounding. Not nearly the Oi! influence of old. But still – It’s good. Mike’s familiar vocals are very much the focus. Not quite as powerful as the old-style, but still unique and sure footed nonetheless. The band, Rob Guidotti on guitar and for this release, Bill Close on bass, provides capable back up and catchy three-chord punk rock to keep things rolling throughout.
Lyrically, the demo deals with life in general – relationships, fights, dreams lost and day-to-day life are all here and are presented honestly, no punk rock anarchy fantasies here. Real life subjects handled intelligently. Highlights are “Justifiable Fisticuffs” which will inevitably be compared to “Barroom Hero” although it is completely different and tells the tale of being a diplomat until that no longer works – “you’ve got to know when enough’s enough” Mike wails. My favorite cut is probably “When it Ends” an anthemic tale of a relationship’s end and kind of propels along like “Tenant Enemy Number One” did. “Cut Down on the 12th” is another favorite and is a cool sing-along.
All in all, a good demo and well-worth checking out. Not up to the old DKM standards yet, but with some solid improvements and a bit of fire, these guys could be very good.
By Sean Holland