With 2013 drawing to a close it may seem a bit strange to review a album that was released way back in March in time for St Patrick’s Day but as this is by far and away the #1 Album of the year I thought I’d just chuck in my review to the many others that litter the web.
The Tossers come from Chicago, to be exact they come from the South of Chicago. This is the area where the cities Irish catholic community have lived ever since they started arriving there after the ‘famine’. The immigrant history of Chicago is rooted among untold amount of countries and people whose struggles and triumphs have led them to the Midwest. From the days of Chicago’s founding in the 1830s, the city has been the final stop for people journeying from all over the world looking for a land of opportunity. It may surprise people to know that the Irish constitute the city’s biggest ethnic community, especially in a city know as ‘Chicago Polonia’! While most Irish-American families in Chicago are three are four generations deep, plenty of Chicago’s Irish have immigrated fairly recently. Ireland’s economy in the 1980s and 1990s prompted many of its young people to go where many many others had gone before them and with strong Irish links Chicago was if not top of the list then very close to it.
It is with this background then that The Tossers were born in 1993 as a 6-piece celtic-punk band pre-dating both The Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly. Seven albums in and while most bands would be starting to tire and get stale The Tossers just continue to get better and better. Using traditional instrumentation comprised of mandolin, fiddle, tin whistle and banjo beefed up with guitar and drums The Tossers possess an unparalleled work ethic, playing ‘anywhere, anytime, for anybody, with anybody’…
From the albums opener with the glorious ‘The Rover’, which had me and the Mrs singing and screaming along at the top of our voices the first time I put it on in the car, its instantly reminiscent of the best of both The Dubliners and The Pogues but without copying or aping them at all. Sure sometimes lead singer Tony Duggins does occasionally slip into Shane MacGowan mode but so what. MacGowan pretty much invented celtic-punk and influences everything every band does within it. That being said Tony is no tribute act and his passion and vocal style stand him out as one of the best in the scene. His song writing is outstanding and just like the best American celtic-punk bands beats a heart fighting for the underdog and the working class. The people who do all the shit and get nothing but shit in return. The message here is have pride in yourself, your community and your class.
It’s all here on this album from acoustic to punk to folk to folkpunk. The biggest compliment I can give when reviewing stuff like this is to ask the question would my mammy like it as well as my punk mates and the truth is I can see them both hopping about to ‘The Break Of Dawn’ and slowdancing to ‘The Southside Of Town’. Of course being a Fermoy lass herself she’d love the albums only trad song ‘The Fermoy Lasses And Sporting Paddy’. For me the stand out track is ‘Johnny McGuire’s Wake’. A beautiful song about the death of an old friend and the loss of youth. The first time I heard it I played it non-stop on my walk to work with tears in my eyes. The album ends with ‘Sláinte’ another stand out track that will leave you feeling uplifted and waking the neighbours with the chorus!
What strikes you upon listening to Emerald City is the way The Tossers have the ability to change tempo and go from raucous Irish punk to solemn reflective Irish ballad without you even noticing. The Tossers tell the tale of both Chicago and America’s Irish community in both a serious and a joyful and upbeat way, celebrating everything the Irish have done wherever they’ve roved!
One more thing to add. to us here in Britland The Tossers is an unusual name and the kind that would make your mammy refuse to wash their t-shirt (happened to me with once with a Pogues top!) but rest assured it’s not rude the band chose their name for its American derogatory meaning, “throw away.” The term dates back to Shakespeare, and depending who you ask it also means commode, drunk, to agitate, disturb, or disquiet.
On a Fine Spring Evening (Victory Records, 2008) Gloatin’ & Showboatin’: Live on St. Patrick’s Day CD/DVD (Victory Records, 2008) Agony (Victory Records, 2007) The Valley of the Shadow of Death (Victory Records, 2005) Purgatory (Thick Records, 2003) Communication & Conviction: The Last 7 Years (Thick Records, 2001) The First League Out From Land EP (Thick Records, 2001) The Tossers/Citizen Fish split single (Thick Records, 2001) Long Dim Road (Thick Records, 2000) The Tossers/The Arrivals split single (Smilin Bob Records, 1998) We’ll Never Be Sober Again (Folk You Records, 1996) The Pint of No Return (1994)