Murder city celtic-punks!
This is the The Tosspints fourth album and after the success of all that’s gone before them their new album ‘The Privateer’ does not disappoint and comes up trumps in every way. The band is made up of the brothers Zuzula. Don is a combat veteran of the Iraqi war and Zak a history teacher and along with drummer John Johnson they make up The Tosspints certainly one of the main American bands to have make a splash over this side of the pond without ever actually setting foot over here.
The band are named after a Pogues song written by Jem Finer about the day in the life of a complete waster.
“Tosspint under flaming sky
Walks through the fires of Hell
Where bestial demons threw the damned
Screaming as they fell”
They did in fact start off as a bit of a Pogues tribute band before beginning to write their own material and setting forth on their own. The ‘Murder City Celtic Punks’ is a reference to Saginaw, where the band hail from. Just south of Saginaw is Detroit, also called the Motor City, and Saginaw right now is currently the most dangerous in America. Its certainly not easy place to live and it never has been. The poverty and the hard times have always been around for many and the so called American dream simply never materialised for many of the American working class. Saginaw was once a thriving lumber town but by the late 20th century, industry and its once-strong manufacturing presence had collapsed leading to increasing unemployment and crime. It is this hard nosed, working class background that runs through The Tosspints music, their sound and the ethos around them too. It’s an area of America with long historical links to Irish emigration. From 1853 to 1854, Irish emigrants dug the Ste. Marie Canal while others dug canals in Grand Rapids and Saginaw. Irish nationalism in both Michigan and the United States in general has always been closely linked with the labour movement in which Irish Americans were among the earliest organizers and leaders.
As the band say about themselves
“living through the school of hard knocks, brought to bear from war, loss, degradation, and hard drinking. A band created entirely by a family who has had to make it through life the hard way and use their experience to create songs about the more distressed side of being human”
Their powerful and energetic live shows are legendary and have led to them sharing the main stage with ALL the big names in celtic-punk. Fast but tuneful punk rock with enough celtic influences for us to claim them as one of our own!
‘The Privateer’ kicks off with the nautically themed ‘Pirates Life’ and if you get the feeling that the ocean runs deep throughout this album then you are only half right. A catchy as hell tune and great lyrics combine with some class Rock’n’Roll/ country and punk to give them a feel of bands not unlike Social Distortion.
One of the most amazing things about The tosspints is that with just guitar, bass and drums and vocals they manage somehow to have a celtic sound and ‘Untitled Western’ is typical of this. A very definite connection comes through though not sure if a non-celtic punk fan would spot this. ‘Marching On’ is typical also of the bands rage at the injustice faced by many in the States today. Don suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from his time in the military and this song borrows elements from ‘Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya’ and updates it to the story of a modern day soldiers return. A great song with amazingly poignant lyrics that you know come straight from the heart and not some songwriters workshop. As I have said many a time a defining feature of the best of the celtic-punk bands is their lyrics and not necessarily their tunes. To take the themes that are common in celtic-punk like loss and emigration, drinking and death, solidarity, religion, class pride and turn them into lines that are aren’t a cliched hack is an amazing achievement and The Tosspints are right up there with the best. We are a genre of music formed in the wake of a band where the singer had the worse voice in popular music but was considered a genius when it came to song-writing so this should come as no surprise. ‘We Are the Many’ is a fast paced song reminding me of the old Wobblies saying
“we are the many, you are the few, we are going to win”
They take a while to get round to a drinking song, not like them at all, with ‘My Last and Only Friend’ and when they do it’s a beauty. The Tosspints like a pint…of whiskey that is and the tune rattles along superbly.
“Whiskey you’re my last and only friend”
‘Hollow Man’ is the definite album standout track and obviously the band think so too as they have produced an unmissable video to accompany the song. The LP’s first track that slows down a little and again Don’s words hit you squarely in the jaw.
“Remember us if at all
Not as lost and violent souls
Just the men who stood together
Shed our blood and paid our tolls”
Obviously Don’s background comes to the fore in this story of a former soldier just trying to survive while dealing with his own experiences of war while coping with personal feelings that don’t seem to be understood or even cared about by ‘civilians’.
“I am not a hero
I’m just a hollow man”
Don bares his soul again for us on the ‘How Do You Feel’ where he talks about how his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has affected his family. A trio of nautical songs bring the album to an end. ‘Sailors Grave’ is one of the shorter and punkier songs with a great chorus while next up is ‘The Dregs’ which would normally be called a epic at over five minutes but then ‘The Privateer’ ends the album and at fifteen (yes 15!) minutes this IS what an epic song is. The introduction of fiddle gives them a larger range to roam and they make use of it in this cracking song which takes a trad route before speeding up to high heaven half way through and then calming down again. Once again I am more than impressed by the great lyrics and it’s a huge testament to them that they can make a fifteen minute song that bears repeated listening. Not many could do that… and I mean not many.
The album is out on East Grand Records and comes in CD form or is available for download. The beauty behind this album is everyone I have spoke to who has heard it has completely different favourite songs. Such is the wide scope that The Tosspints travel on this record. They have outgrown their Irish musical roots and developed into a band offering much much more. Though they are perfectly happy to keep a foot in the celtic-punk camp they will surely appeal to a much larger audience we than we can offer them. An intelligent and honest band with proper roots in their community and something for us all to be proud of that our class can throw up bands like this in, times like this.
(to listen for free to ‘The Privateer’ press play on the Bandcamp player below)
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Tagged: Social Distortion, Tosspints
Thank you for the great review!