Confession – I didn’t know until a few months ago that the Dropkick Murphys’ whiskey and clover-engorged banger “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” was based on a scrap of a poem by…Woody Guthrie. Turns out, the Boston boys’ connection to the Oklahoma bard runs long and deep, from a blistering, siren-filled cover of “Gonna Be A Blackout Tonight” in 2003 to a brand new album of Guthrie-penned lyrics paired with a stripped-down version of the band. This Machine Still Kills Fascists is a fierce reminder that much of what troubled the world in Guthrie’s heyday still exists in 2022.
Guthrie’s daughter Nora was intimately involved in This Machine Still Kills Fascists, including collecting lyrics from her father that, in her words, “seemed to be needed to be said – or screamed – today.” And the band and longtime producer Ted Hutt took great pains to be close to Guthrie’s life and legacy, opting to record at The Church Studio in Tulsa, a legendary venue in its own right which also happens to be located in Guthrie’s home state. But even with all of the care, reverence and forsaking of electric instruments, Nora Guthrie gets the screaming that she asked for – this record hits HARD. First track and lead single “Two 6’s Upside Down” is a hard-luck gambler’s recitation of losses and mistakes, driven forward by chugging acoustic guitars, that lands the protagonist in the only place that it could – “It’s a long old time` laid in jail/And I still got 99.” “Talking Jukebox,” propelled by slide guitar and low-end thump, has lead singer Ken Casey shouting out the thoughts of an old-school, all-knowing 45-spinner – “Who’d have ever believed that one of these days or nights/You’d put a nickel in me and hear every single truth about yourself” – confirming that all we ever really need to know comes from a three-minute record.
The “fascist-killing” Guthrie really begins to emerge in “Ten Times More,” a spit-in-your-eye, pro-union call-and-response that was largely recorded in one take, as raw and aggressive as the workers that inspired Guthrie to write it. “The Last One,” featuring Oklahoma’s own Evan Felker (Turnpike Troubadours), may take a slightly gentler, acoustic-led approach to support of laborers, but the resolve is no less strong – “Oh, we might lose many a fight, but we’ll damn sure win the last one.” Dropkick Murphys are a working man’s band, and they chose an interesting moment to interpret the words of a man Casey calls “the original punk.” Unions were a force in Guthrie’s day and, here in 2022, labor is once again finding its voice, making this record (and its companion, slated for release next year) an important amplifier during a critical time.
Other guests show up on This Machine, including Nikki Lane on the lovely, accordion-tinged promise of sobriety “Never Git Drunk No More. Gutherie’s grandson,” Cole Quest, appears on two tracks on Dobro and backing vocals – turns out a poster on Cole’s bedroom wall nearly two decades ago is what first turned Nora Guthrie on to the Dropkick Murphys. But the biggest “FEAT.” on the record turns out to be the elder Guthrie himself. ”Dig a Hole” is a swampy Celtic warning to authroitarians everywhere – Nazis in Gutherie’s time, fascists in ours – which builds a song around a Smithsonian Folkways recording of Guthrie’s original vocals. When Guthrie addresses the instigator by name – “Mr. Hitler, Mr. Hitler/Tell me what are you going to do” – and the band, backed by Quests’s seething Dobro line, responds with “Dig a hole, dig a hole in the meadow/Dig a hole in the cold, cold ground,” the raw, angry retort to nationalism passes generations. Folk music may be known for its acoustic roots, but it’s just as deeply based in fury, and, on This Machine Still Kills Fascists, Dropkick Murphys have distilled that incandescent ire for a new age.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Dig A Hole” – Shouting along with a band engaged in finding places to bury Nazis sounds like a fine way to spend an evening.
This Machine Still Kills Fascists was produced by Ted Hutt, executive produced by Nora Guthrie, mixed by Hutt and Ryan Mall, engineered by Mall and mastered by Dave Cooley. Words by Woody Guthrie, music and arrangements gy Dropkick Murphys. Dropkick Murphys are Tim Brennan (guitars, tin whistle, accordion, piano, vocals), Ken Casey (lead vocals), Jeff Darosa (guitars, banjo, mandolin, vocals), Matt Kelly (drums, percussion, vocals), James Lynch (guitars, vocals) and Kevin Rheault (bass). Additional musicians on the album include Hutt (background vocals), Campbell Webster (bagpipes, whistles), Nikki Lane (vocals), Evan Felker (vocals), Dom Flemons (harmonica) and Cole Quest (Dobro, backing vocals).
Go here to order This Machine Still Kills Fascists (out September 30): https://dropkickmurphys.com/music/studio/this-machine-still-kills-fascists/
Check out dates for the band’s first-ever reserved seating theater tour here: https://dropkickmurphys.com/tour/