Dropkick Murphys – Okemah Rising
Funny how, with all the vague, populist lip service paid to “real Americans” on your average country radio song, you don’t hear a lot about the unions that back up those hard working men and women. Turns out, it takes an Irish punk band from Boston, channeling the words of decades-dead Oklahoman, to bring that message to country listeners. Dropkick Murphys are back with their second collection of tunes (following up on last year’s This Machine Still Kills Fascists) featuring all the piss and vinegar of Woody Guthrie’s words with the stripped-down (but no less ferocious) sound the band introduced on last fall’s seated theater tour. Okemah Rising doubles down on the labor-supporting, Nazi-stomping fun that originated with the “original punk” all those years ago.
Okemah Rising is titled in honor of Guthrie’s hometown and, like This Machine…, was recorded in Tulsa with music set around the Oklahoma bard’s unpublished lyrics. And, while the record is largely “unplugged,” that doesn’t subtract one iota of energy from the band’s ball-out best. “My Eyes Are Gonna Shine” kicks off with a big, fat drum beat balanced by accordion as frontman Ken Casey sings references from Guthrie’s days – “When I get rid of Taft and Hartley/Hoover, Truman, Wall Street, Congress” – right up to today’s battles – “When my working folks take power/My eyes are gonna shine.” “Watching the World Go By” is a mid-tempo, banjo-driven chugger that pays tribute to the men (in Guthrie’s day) and women (today) who build a world they aren’t allowed to enjoy – “I been working on a new road/I been working on the railroad/But I can’t ride on neither.” Be it the dust bowl work-searching wanderers of the 1930s or the migrant workers of the 2020s, seemingly little of America’s economic divide has changed.
Like last year’s record, Dropkick has a small but powerful list of friends appearing on Okemah Rising. Labelmate Jesse Ahern sits in on “Rippin’ Up the Boundary Line,” an acoustic-led stab at tearing down that class distinction – “Boundary line, dividing line/You ain’t no friend of mine.” And Violent Femmes show up to create a breakneck, folk punk explosion in “Gotta Get to Peekskill.” But it’s Jaime Wyatt, who joined the band on tour (and on stage), that gets the biggest chance to shine. “Bring It Home” ends up being a good ol’ country story song about technology and infidelity combining to lose a man his wife, with Wyatt chiming in as the wronged woman who ends up winning. And in “When I Was a Little Boy,” Wyatt (and a sentimental song) end up teasing out Casey’s gentle side. Accompanied by accordion and tin whistle, the pair sings about innocence – “First you’ll have to grow/Then you’ll have to guess, and then you’ll have to know” – that’s corrupted by the mean old world – “You’ll have to study fightin’ most of all.” Like Guthrie before them, Dropkick Murphys know that idealism by itself is useless without a punk rock attitude.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: The band includes an acoustic take on “Shipping Up to Boston (Tulsa Version)” (again, based on Guthrie’s words), but it’s “Run Hitler Run” that’ll be the most fun live. Like This Machine…’s “Dig a Hole,” this song is unapologetic in its violent hatred of fascists, old and new. And I defy you to listen to this tune without picturing a panicked, pants-peeing Adolf fleeing an army of heavily armed, vengeful Allies.
Okemah Rising was produced by Ted Hutt. Dropkick Murphys are Ken Casey (lead vocals), Tim Brennan (guitars, tin whistle, accordion, piano, vocals), Jeff DaRosa (guitars, banjo, mandolin, vocals), Matt Kelly (drums, percussion, vocals), James Lynch (guitars, vocals) and Kevin Rheault (bass). Guests on the album include Violent Femmes, Jesse Ahern and Jaime Wyatt.
Go here to order Okemah Rising (out May 12): https://dropkickmurphys.store/
Check out tour dates here: https://dropkickmurphys.com/tour/