Tag Archives: Social Distortion

ALBUM REVIEW: CLEAR THE BATTLE FIELD- ‘Set Me Free’ (2016)

Armagh born multi instrumentalist Dominic Cromie and crew with a modern take on traditional Irish music that has something for bloody everyone!

clear-the-battlefield

When talking about celtic-punk people sometimes think of a narrow genre situated somewhere between the two most famous bands to come out of it, The Pogues and The Dropkick Murphys, but when you also throw in Flogging Molly you begin to have a genre that stretches from traditional Irish folk all the way to hardcore punk. I also tend to think of other such diverse artists as Johnny Cash, Tom Waits and even Social Distortion as being an large influence on what we call celtic-punk today in 2016. Clear The Battlefield are no different. Taking Irish and celtic music and mixing it with all sorts of traditions, some old and some modern, all the while putting their own spin on it.

dominic1

Clear The Battlefield’s main instrumentalist, vocalist and lyricist is Dominic Cromie. Born in county Armagh in the north of Ireland he first began playing guitar at the age of ten and by eleven had written his first song. He played his first gig at fourteen with his sister Aine who was by then becoming a well know singer on the Irish show band scene. After touring Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales and Holland, Dominic left Ireland for the United States in 1991 to pursue his dream as a singer songwriter. Dominic formed Raglan Road, a Celtic rock band and has toured throughout the States performing with many of the nations best Irish-American bands. After these he formed Clear The Battlefield in 2008 and has been gigging solidly since leading up to this their debut album, Set Me Free.

dominic2The album begins, significantly perhaps, with the only cover on the album,’I Roved Out’. A old traditional folk song covered by all the great and the good in Irish musical history. Confusingly there are two versions of ‘I Roved Out’ but this is the one as popularised by Christy Moore telling the rather common tale of a young woman who is seduced by a soldier, only to find that he has abandoned her the next morning. The album kicks off with a sort of dancey backbeat and my first worry is that it is going to be like those awful techno rebel song medleys that get released every now and then and are used to whip up the drunks in nightclubs across the Irish diaspora. I need not have worried though as its not intrusive and (can I hear myself actually saying this) sounds pretty good.

Anyway pretty soon in the Irish instruments take over and expertly played tin whistle comes in and later the glorious sound of uileann pipes.

“With me too-ry-ay Fol-de-diddle-day
Di-rah fol-de-diddle, dai-rie oh”

Next up is ‘The Valley’ and a slow song but with Dominic’s voice bursting with emotion. He is blessed with a voice that sounds like those old crackly records our Grandparents owned but with the modern touches it easily straddles both worlds of old and new. ‘You’ follows and is a nice love song done as alternative sounding country while ‘Mary’ is back to more folkier territory. We are back next with ‘Set Me Free’. The instrument count rises as Dominic and crew rattle through a somewhat tribal tune. At any second we expect it to fly into complete trad but its just reined back enough. Accompanied by a great video that leaves us in no doubt where Dominic’s heart and passion lies.

The album’s longest track is the instrumental ‘The Rights Of Man’ at over six minutes and begins with an instrument we do not hear enough of in celtic punk those uileann pipes. With Black 47 no more and a long long time since Stephen Gara packed his bags for NYC and left London Irish rockers Neck only Italian band Uncle Bard And The Dirty Bastards are giving us what we want. More pipes! The following songs follow a similar path in that they start off as just guitar and voice before flying off into something else. ‘Get Up’ benefits from a Irish ending while ‘Go’ returns the album to the unconventional country sound we heard earlier.

We even dip into ‘C86’ sounding indie with ‘Even After The Drugs’ that takes in bands like The La’s or Teenage Fanclub. Finally Set Me Free comes to an end with ‘Days Days Days’ a short blast of upbeat jazzyness that is a way cool way to bring the curtain down.

The ten songs clock in at just under forty minutes and if I had a slight, and I mean slight, criticism with Set Me Free it would be that their is perhaps some unnecessary flourishes that don’t really add much to the music. It’s not your typical celtic-punk and sometimes it feels like the most un-celtic-punk celtic-punk album we have ever reviewed here. Nevertheless I thoroughly enjoyed it. The playing here is truly to be marvelled at and regardless of whether it is punk or not will strike a chord with anyone with a love of traditionally played Irish music.

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ALBUM REVIEW: THE TOSSPINTS- ‘The Privateer’ (2015)

Murder city celtic-punks!

The Tosspints-The Privateer

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 Tosspints

The Tosspints left to right: Zak Zuzula- Bassist/Vocalist * Don Zuzula- guitarist/vocalist * John Johnson- Drummer

‘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 Tosspints

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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EP REVIEW: NOWHEREBOUND- ‘Til Death, For Life’ (2015)

Nowherebound are an acoustic band based out of Austin, Texas with twinges of punk, country and folk thrown together at a moment’s notice over a few beers and too much coffee.
Nowherebound
Formed in 2010 out of the ashes of local Texan punk bands Nowherebound have had a very busy 2015 plying their brand of folk-country-punk rock. Not only have they gigged across the States and Europe (unfortunately missing out on these shores) but also found time to release this EP as well as their fourth album, ‘All We Got Is Everything To Lose’.
‘Til Death, For Life’ was originally released as a 12″ split with German band Rock Shit Hot on Ring of Fire Records. A reworking of a couple of crowd favourite old songs and some new songs. From hard rock in-yer-face to pop punk melodies to raise-your-glass-and-sing-along-anthems Nowherebound hit you in the heart and head. On this EP though they concentrate on showcasing their acoustic side and it works… hell yes, it works!

Recorded and produced and mastered by the band themselves the production is top class and as clear as a bell. The EP kicks off with a new song ‘Bullet And A Tooth’ and shows the boys at their acoustic best. They can certainly rock out when want but they also a fantastic acoustic band too. Comparisons to Social Distortion are inescapable but Nowherebound plough their own field and if anything have taken that ‘country folk punk’ sound and took it in another direction from Mike Ness and crew while stamping it with their own Texan brand. Laid back acoustic punk with lovely banjo playing from Natchet while the raspy tortured vocals from Chris compliment the music perfectly. ‘California’ follows and is a real country masterpiece. It first appeared on their debut album ‘The Songs Of Broken Men’ back in 2011. Remixed and remastered  the song has been given a lift I hadn’t thought possible. A great song and I don’t hear enough harmonica in celtic-punk so loving hearing it here. Last years album ‘Mockingbirds’ is visited for ‘Here I Am’ and the band give it plenty of oomph with harmonica starting off the track before the band join in and prove once again that Nowhwerebound are masters of country-folk-punk. Great musicians with great songs.
from left to right...Chris Klinck, Natchet Taylor, Dylan Karn, Trevor Wiseman, Robert Williamson.

from left to right…Chris Klinck, Natchet Taylor, Dylan Karn, Trevor Wiseman, Robert Williamson.

The band standard ‘Nowherebound’ is another track from that debut album given the same treatment as ‘California’ and again the song is lifted up. Easy to see why its a fan favourite with a great chance to get that pint in the air and shout the heartbroken words at the top of your voice. Not much joy here but hey isn’t that just the band sticking close to their country roots? ‘That Was Yesterday’ is another track from ‘Mockingbirds’ and is done in the same style as the other ‘Mockingbirds’ song. Stripped down from the original and started again. The EP ends with another new song ‘Wander Round’ and has a Street Dogs feel to it. I say that though it seems to me that its the Street Dogs who sound like Nowherebound to be honest. A great EP and as I’ve loved everything Nowherebound have recorded I’m off to get the new album now so expect a review of that hitting these pages soon too!
2015

2015

Six tracks coming in at just under twenty five minutes and if you’re a fan like me you’ll be wanting to get it. If you’re new to the band then this is a perfect as place to start as you can get. The band have managed to capture all six songs with that classic Nowherebound sound. I love them and i love the way they can change tempo form slow to fast in a way that you hardly notice. Superb and I would mark them the best band going that plays this style of music. Tales of love, loss brotherhood and life on the road except next time though lads make sure that road leads you to London England!

(you can listen to the whole EP by pressing play on the Bandcamp box below)

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