Flogging Molly,
Swagger
(Side One Dummy Records, 2000)

I heard somewhere that all Irish songs have four interchangeble and combinable topics: love, death, wandering and drinking. If this is true, then Flogging Molly's first album Swagger is purely Irish. However, there is more to this band than just traditional sounds and subjects. They combine the melodies of Irish folk with the rhythm and drive of old-style punk and, like the Pogues before them, they make it work. Flogging Molly isn't quite as drunken as the Pogues but any band that records a song called "The Worst Day Since Yesterday" gets my vote for the best new thing on any scene.

Instrumentally, Swagger is very solid. The guitar work is good, and the drummer is excellent (and given lots of opportunity to show off his talents). Traditional instruments like fiddle, tin whistle and accordion round out the sound, though they are sometimes pushed toward the background by the drums and vocals. Odd instrumental breaks add a lot of interest to the album -- the best is the country-and-western style guitar break in "The Worst Day Since Yesterday" -- but the occasional jazzy trumpet also makes an appearance. Dave King's vocals are well done (and well produced) but manage to not pull all of your attention away from the music itself. He sings in a gruff tenor, voice filled with anger and pain and, occasionally, cynicism.

All the songs on Swagger are credited to Dave King and Flogging Molly, although "Life in a Tenement Square" sounds so familiar that I wonder if it might be a version of a traditional tune. While I think that all of the songs are strong, I do have three favorites. "The Worst Day Since Yesterday" has become something of a personal theme song over the past couple of months, with lines like "Well I know I miss more than hit / with a face that was launched to sink / and I seldom feel the bright relief / it's been the worst day since yesterday." Two songs on Swagger stand out for being really tight and most "on" -- "Selfish Man" and "Black Friday Rule" seem to most fully use the talents of the band. Both have an almost frantic pace and meld the punk and folk elements even more strongly than the rest of this very strong recording.

So, if you like Irish folk give Flogging Molly a try -- they may just surprise you. If you like punk, the same statement applies; these guys can thrash with the best. If, like me, you happen to be seriously into both kinds of music then go out and find a copy of Swagger. It will be well worth the effort. Now if I could just get them to play where I live!

[ by Ziya Reynolds ]



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