The Tossers top out my list of Celtic punk bands. Dropkick Murphys turned into cartoons long ago and I’ve just never been that big a fan of Dave King’s (Flogging Molly) voice. The Tossers, who call Chicago home, bring a mix of emphatic punk energy a la Flogging Molly, but blend it with a traditionalist sense found in, who else,The Pogues. They aren’t afraid to slow it down or speed it up as the song warrants and they keep it authentic—singing from the experience of Irish Americans rather than playing up the home country. However, after hearing a few of their records they hit a bit of sameness: some drinking songs, a couple of Chicago songs, and one or two traditional or instrumentals. As already stated, they do it well but, to complete their discography, you need to be a big fan of the style. The band shows no plans to change their sound at this point in the game as they celebrate their 20th anniversary.
Sticking with my talking points above, the record delivers as expected. There are drinking songs, Chicago songs, and some ballads. Throughout their history they’ve always had some fine punk burners that replace the power chords with mandolin. Here, opener “The Rover” fits this criterion, quickly setting the tone for the record. Ultimately, what makes the Tossers more successful at their genre is the ability to mix tempos and instruments better than their contemporaries. The mixture feels organic rather than hokey and the ballads, led by Tony Duggins’ ability to carry a soulful lament while maintaining an everyman rasp, are usually impressive. His vocals are relatively dry, but his inflection carries the tone and he drags out notes when needed and cuts others short, all with an honest, sincere expression.
Meanwhile, the instrumentation, namely Rebecca Manthe’s fiddle, conveys a strong, light-step energy that’s unique to the band. There are some fine moments on The Emerald City, as in “God Bless You” and “The Fermoy Lasses and Sporting Paddy” that outshine the rest of the instrumentation and take over the song. The backing instruments maintain a punk-fused influence that keeps it from crossing into Third Wave insert-non-traditional-rock-instrument-here terrain, instead using the fiddle for a strong lead.
While the band can pull off ballads rather successfully, there tends to be a hit/miss ratio on their records with at least one clunker. No exceptions here, as “St. Patrick’s Day” and “The South Side of Town” are both rather uninteresting songs. Generally speaking, the lyrics are of a storytelling nature, often first person, and tell tales of a variety of characters and it feels that some of the ballads are more in the story terrain than forward-moving songs. “Johnny McGuire’s Wake” is one of the better tracks on the record with the lyrics complementing the tune well.
As a whole, The Emerald City is a worthy addition to the Tossers’ catalog for any fan of the genre. However, it really doesn’t vary much from its predecessors and, at this point in their career, it’s pretty easy to know what you’ll get from the band on any given release. The Emerald City could be played just after Long Dim Road and it would be hard to identify that over a decade has passed between them.
7.1 / 10
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