Dropkick Murphys have been a bagpipe among guitars -- both metaphorically and literally. 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory is the 9th studio album for this American Celtic punk band. Al Baar and his fellow members keep their genre, as well as their concepts, close to the heritage and issues of Boston, their home. Using unique sounds including a wide range of string instruments, bagpipes, harmonicas, an accordion, and even a tin whistle, Dropkick Murphys give a feel to their music that is very recognizable and brings life to the causes about which they write music.
Starting strong and solemn, the band gifts us a song reminiscent to the traditional Irish song of the same name, “The Lonesome Boatman”. The first minute is almost indistinguishable from pure Irish music, free of vocals and typical rock instruments. The dignified sound and higher tune of the tin whistle paired with the very deep bass and percussion undertones salutes the beautiful Irish countryside and the strength of the Irish people. The tin whistle then drops off and the beat picks up, led by the drummer, and an “Oh!” chant carries the melody for the rest of the song. There may be a lack of lyrics, but there is no lack of heart and soul.
The Claddagh Fund, a charity that the band established in 2009, was a big influence for this album. The fund contributes to helping addiction recovery, veterans, and children's’ organizations. As a result, many of the songs are specifically written about issues in the heart of Massachusetts. “Rebels With a Cause”, the second track, contrasts the first with a much more rock-and-roll feel. The strumming of guitar and drumming has a quick, upbeat tone and is paired with lyrics that pay tribute to children left behind by a heartless system. Al Baar sings, “Dead end kids, you don’t want ‘em, you don’t need ‘em, and you’ll always find a reason when you need to write ‘em off”. It seems depressing, and that message does engulf most of the song, but Dropkick Murphys has more than just a sad topic. Because of their charity towards children of this nature, they are able to sing with integrity, “You said they'd never listen, you said they'd be better off,
But we believed in you, we knew it from the start. Hey kid! You've got heart”. This band really is a bunch of rebels with a cause, exposing issues and bringing hope.
Along the same lines, “Paying My Way” was written as a tribute to the people they help with charities for drug addiction and recovery. Al sings, “I'm a survivor, I'd chased these dreams down city streets, Dead end rows and no one sees, And I am proud to be a fighter”, accompanied by a simple drum beat, piano, guitar, and harmonica. This song is motivational to not just drug addicts, but anyone who needs to fight through hard times and work towards a better life.
Also featured on this album, as a compliment to this song’s meaning, is a cover of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. Ken Casey, lead vocals and bass player, explained in an interview that he and his fellow band members had been to over thirty wakes in just two years, and some of them had been family members, all because of opiate overdoses. When leaving one of the wakes, the original “You’ll Never Walk Alone” came on and hit home for them. The song feels sad, but has hope; the mix of feelings that the band members felt that day and successfully portrayed in their version of the song. A guitar, bagpipe, and rough voices replace the original piano, light percussion, and soft melody, but the sentiment stays.
“4-15-13” is not just the tenth song on this album; it is the date of the infamous Boston Marathon Bombing. The band members grew close to many of the victims during their visits to the hospitals and channeled these experiences and emotions into this track. Dropkick Murphys explains, “We're all just people tryin' to get along, We're all just people tryin' to make our way, We're all just people tryin' to make it through another day”. We are all people, we all have jobs and lives and woes, so we should all be nice to each other and united instead of causing violence and perpetuating hatred. It is clear that this song is both a tribute to those lost and a call for peace, beautifully written and played.
On the other hand, songs like “First Class Loser”, “Kicked to the Curb”, and “I Had A Hat” are rowdy, playful, and entice the listener to be caught up in the stories told. Dropkick Murphys successfully combines humorous takes on otherwise bad situations with foot tapping choruses in these songs. It’s easy to imagine yourself listening to these tracks while out with your buddies at an Irish bar. In short, this album is wide ranging and dynamic.
This band has character that anyone can come to know and love; their clear concern and charity for their home and the epidemics of our time shows that they are more than just music makers. Their songs are not only meant to entertain but also to encourage and to give hope. They have not lost their charm over the many years and many albums they have released. They aren’t just a bunch of guitars; they have a rich sense of heritage, charitable hearts, and bagpipes, too.
Written by Brenna Nelson
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