Release Date: March 5, 2013
Run Time: 40:08
2. Here’s to a Drink With You
3. Emerald City
4. Wherever You Go
6. St. Patrick’s Day
7. Bombo Lane
8. The Break of Dawn
9. The South Side of Town
10. Where The Beer and Whiskey Flow
11. God Bless You
12. Johnny McGuire’s Wake
13. The Fermoy Lasses And Sporting Paddy
The Tossers have always been in the big three of modern Celtic punk bands, along with Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys, in terms of song quality and breadth of recognition. The first time I saw The Tossers live, they were opening for the Dropkick’s and I’ll be damned if they didn’t upstage them that night. Their shows are filled with the kind of sincere and raucous energy that their albums are.Although it’s a somewhat clichéd and obvious sentiment most, if not all, Celtic punk and rock bands strive for a show that feels like St. Patrick’s Day.
The Tossers have been around since 1993, with their first release, “The Pint of No Return” coming out on the heels of their inception (their once hard to find and out of print first two releases were collected into a single album in 2001 entitled “Communication and Conviction”). That’s three years before the Dropkick Murphys formed and four before Flogging Molly. But, like Canadian Celtic punk stalwarts The Mahones, who formed in 1990, the band has, somewhat unfairly, been eclipsed in recognition and popularity by the Murphys and Molly.
The Tossers have remained a strong and steady force in the scene these last twenty years. Now, with an ever expanding fan base in North America and abroad they are celebrating of two full decades of service by releasing their long awaited eighth studio album “The Emerald City.” Whatever reason drove a five year wedge between The Tossers’ last record “On A Fine Spring Evening” and this one I don’t know. It could be familial obligations, day jobs, or maybe just a higher level of perfectionism and attention to detail on these fourteen songs than any the band’s recorded previous.
Listening to the album, there’s definitely a sense of the band having a better handle on their instruments than ever before. There’s more professionalism in the sound and less wild abandon. Just don’t think The Tossers have mellowed out. There are many examples of the same kind of whiskey-fueled insanity that made songs like Mad Riot, Goodmornin’ Da and Whiskey Makes Me Crazy such perfect examples of The Tossers taking what The Pogues were doing in the 80’s, and making it sound like they were playing those 33rpm records at 45.
The character of The Rover has been well covered in Celtic music. There’s something about wandering about, raising black frothy pints in new pubs with new faces that appeals to the Irish. Who can blame them? What less stressful an existence is there than that of a floating weed? Tony and the gang tap into this ideal with the The Emerald City’s kick off song entitled simply, The Rover. If you listen to any Tossers album you’ll notice they always start things off with a blast of intensity, like starting a night of drinking off with the whiskey and then easing into the stout later on.
The Rover is no exception, using the full arsenal of instruments at the band’s disposal to support Tony declaration of ‘I’m a Rover, drunk or sober’ in impressive fashion. Here’s To A Drink With You is a short blast of camaraderie via a drunken pub filled chorus that should instantly bond you with anyone you happen to be listening to the song with. It’s got an easy, laid back pace and that classic Tossers sound to it.
The Emerald City is the kind of song that really highlights Tony Duggins’ skills as a raconteur, spinning a vision of old Chicago where a man reminisces on his greatest love and weaves that courtship into historical aspects of Chicago’s growth and climate. It’s a beautiful song, musically and lyrically, and a fine sentiment to name the album after.
Wherever You Go harkens back to the days before “On A Fine Spring Morning” when almost all the songs on The Tossers’ records were dark, cynical or desperate stories. The song starts off with some nice sentiments and the guitar and mandolin singing a soft lullaby, but doesn’t sound entirely sincere. I don’t know what happens to the character in the story a couple of minutes in but he changes his tune quite dramatically and decides that suffering and ruin are a far better fit for the song’s intended recipient. It’s a hard, angry song that devolves into a brilliant fit of danceable musical ingenuity. Wherever You Go is the most complicated, unique song on the record and a great achievement for the band. It’s like a trilogy of songs in one five minute opus. A mini Celtic punk rock opera.
USA is my favorite song on the record and, truth be told, one of the best original Celtic punk songs I’ve ever heard. Another historical tale of coming of age in America. Specifically, the city of Chicago, seeing friends come and go and losing family to the war and all the things that shape the people we were into the people we are. It’s almost impossibly catchy and a real love letter to the band’s city and country without an ounce of cynicism or regret. It’s a pretty breathtaking three and a half minutes.
St. Patrick’s Day and The South Side of Chicago are slow, meditative love stories that take place, as the entire album does, in The Emerald City, Chicago. The South Side in particular has some beautiful instrumental work. Bombo Lane is a quick little street corner clap and shouter that seems to be a man selling a hooker on Bombo Lane and giving the prices for her company. It’s a funny little interlude in the proceedings half way through.
Where the Beer and Whiskey Flow is a pretty self explanatory rave up. While God Bless You has an intro featuring some hard boiled dialogue from the film The Untouchables, it tells of life on the hard bitten streets of the Windy City. The song features some impressive and exciting violin work from the very talented Rebecca Manthe.
Johnny Maguire’s Wake is a Parting Glass-like farewell to a friend and how his passing affects his friends.
Finally The Fermoy Lasses and Sporting Paddy is a barnstorming instrumental reel/jig that really gives the band an opportunity to shine on their respective instrument of choice. It’s a great lead-in to Slainte, the closing track that appropriately signifies the last round on the album and the listener’s final chance for a pint and a farewell.
The Tossers have outdone themselves with The Emerald City. The entire album a love letter to Chicago and a fistful of beautifully written and told stories that have occurred there, if at times only in Tony’s imagination. The songs collected here don’t change the sound of the band their fans have come to love and respect, but perfects it in a way. With tighter performances, fantastic writing and gorgeous melodies, this is about as perfect a record in Celtic music as you are likely to hear and will undoubtedly sit at the top spot of every list of the best albums in Celtic music (and possibly other genres) in 2013.