Celtic folk-punk band Dropkick Murphys have always had a firm foundation with the working class. Their sound and lyrics resonate with the struggles of people just getting by in modern America. Many of their songs have an influence from what some might consider a strange source, folk-hero Woody Guthrie. In fact, two fan favorites that have garnered hundreds of millions of streams were songs developed from his lyrics; I’m Shipping Up To Boston, and Gonna Be A Blackout Tonight. When you strip back the aggressive punk sounds and look just at the lyrics the connection is obvious. Guthrie was revered by working class folks because of his commitment to giving a voice to the marginalized. Dropkick Muryphys continue this tradition with this new album.
Recorded in Oklahoma, Guthrie’s home state, the album gave the band a chance to focus on a new creative venture. In their history as a band they’ve never recorded an entirely acoustic album. Lead singer Al Barr needed to take off time for personal issues this year, and the band decided to take on the project of transforming unpublished Guthrie lyrics into songs.
Guitarist Tim Brenan says, “Back in the early 2000s Dropkicks were contacted by Nora Guthrie. She had a cache of Woody’s lyrics that were never put to music and she decided she wanted to see if there were other bands that could finish the songs. Ken (Casey) went down and grabbed two songs, and those two got turned into Dropkick Murphys/Woody Guthrie songs. After that, we always talked about wouldn’t it be cool if we could do more. So we thought, ‘You know, what better time to do this where we can take Woody Guthrie lyrics and put music to it and do a whole album.’”
The band collaborated with two Americana musicians on the record, Evan Felker of Turnpike Troubadours and Nikki Lane. Felker lends his vocals on the song The Last One. They wanted to work with Evan because they feel a connection with Turnpike Troubadours. Both bands have developed a loyal fanbase playing folk inspired music that tell the stories of common people.
Roots music crooner Nikki Lane sings harmony on the song Never Git Drunk No More. Her voice is a gorgeous juxtaposition to the gritty vocals of Ken Casey. The song is the story of a couple struggling with the man’s drinking and his desire to commit to his lover. Tim explained, “Ken had found this one song that we didn’t do. It was about a man and wife. And so we knew we needed a female voice. And so we did some looking around and when we heard Nikki we knew that was just perfect voice for it. They came about it organically.”
The song Two 6’s Upside Down tells the story of a man serving time in prison for murder. The lyrics are reminiscent of Folsom Prison Blues or Man In Black by Johnny Cash. These songs help the listener identify with a person who has made bad choices in life, but nonetheless deserves our compassion. Woody Guthrie throughout his career helped sensitize his listeners to the struggles of working class people, and these lyrics are a great example of this sentiment.
Dropkick Murphys will be playing at the Silver Legacy Resort in Reno on Nov. 11th. They’ll be playing most if not all of these songs as a part of their set. Tim told me “people will hear all these Woody songs because there’s only 10 on the album. And we realized, the songs aren’t super long or anything. So you know, we have time in the set to play all 10 of those plus another dozen of our own. So yeah, it’s gonna be great. We can’t wait.”
Honest songs about the struggles of working-class people are hard to come by. Most lyricists delve into tropes and misunderstandings when they try. However, this album is a perfect blend of raw lyricism, with stylings of folk music. Dropkick Murphys continue to make incredible music that gets to the core of what it means to exist in our modern world. They do it in a way that’s not condescending, but rather uplifts and gives purpose and meaning to their listeners.
Will Houk covers the music scene for The Ally. He is the host of the radio show and podcast “Roots, Rednecks, and Radicals.” The weekly radio show airs weekly on KNVC 95.1 FM Carson City Community Radio and features the best of Americana, folk, and roots music. His podcast takes a deep dive into modern roots music featuring in-depth interviews with recording artists. A lover of music and the outdoors, Will was raised in Northern Nevada. He now calls Carson City home with his wife Jes, and son William. He’s a teacher at Carson High School where he has taught Social Studies for 18 years. Here’s a link to his podcast – “Roots, Rednecks, and Radicals” Podcast and Radio Show Take a moment and support Will’s work for the Ally here.
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