Like many kids growing up in California during the past two decades, Epitaph Records recording artists played a heavy role in my musical influence over the years. Whether it was wearing out the needle on my turntable with "Peace Thru Vandalism" or roaming the Bay Area to check out the live shows, there was no mistake: you could count on Epitaph for an excellent, consistent and revolutionary lineup of bands. Bay Area locals Rancid were perhaps one of my favorites. There seemed to always be a good lineup at the early Rancid shows. As the notoriety of the band grew they paved the way for many of the smaller supporting acts, giving back to the scene in a way few others have. Of course when I heard that Tim Armstrong and the brass at Epitaph had started sister label Hellcat Records I was very excited at the prospect of seeing what that relationship would produce.
Hellcat's Give ‚??Em The Boot exploded into record stores in 1997 and paved a smoldering path for much more to come. Little known bands at the time suddenly got exposure on the new label; bands like The Slackers and Dropkick Murphys from the East Coast, Hepcat and the U.S. Bombs from the West Coast and even UK Oi! legends The Business. At just under $5 you had no excuse not to pick up the record which truly seemed to offer something for just about everyone. The compilation was a steady diet of ska, punk and its various offshoots, providing a more edgy and varied contrast to the straightforward punk and hardcore that was being released on many of the other labels at the time. The excellent catalog of offerings would continue in its trademark format through a total of three releases up to this year; all while simultaneously building the family of bands above and beyond expectation.
It has been two years since the release of Give ‚??Em The Boot III and the fourth installment is set for an imminent release. Much the same as before, fans will not only be receiving the same high quality lineup of old favorites but a healthy dose of newcomers as well. The CD features a total of 26 tracks, 17 of which are previously unreleased. The variation in the fourth Give ‚??Em The Boot is astounding.
The record kicks off with "Killing Zone" by Rancid. Sounding more like it came off of 2000's self-titled release than the more recent Indestructible, the sound is traditional Rancid at its finest. Off the newly released LP Viking is "1%" by Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards which begins with frenetic guitar playing leading directly into the trademark fast rhyming lyrics backed by a rock solid rhythm section all while never letting up. This was one of the best tracks on Viking and a great choice for this record. The unreleased "Marshall Law" by Die Hunns continues where their last record Long Legs left off. The dual vocal force of Duane Peters and Corey Parks works very well here and adds a dynamic element not found on the old Hunns Records. "Junco Partner" originally released on The Clash's Sandinista! double album is performed live here by Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros. It is a generous addition to what otherwise could have been a previously released track off of Streetcore.
Compilation veterans and Boston favorites Dropkick Murphys offer the anthem "I'm Shipping Up To Boston," which features the same Celtic instrumentation you've come to expect. Also representing the East Coast and for the first time on Hellcat are the excellent Ducky Boys with "Break Me" and The Unseen with "Waste Of Time." The latter stands out as one of the best tracks on the record. Although I have seen the Unseen several times in the past five years I don't remember them sounding this tight and polished. Label mainstays F-Minus have the unreleased "Caught in Between" which will no doubt please fans. "Kiss Kiss Kill Kill" from Roger Miret and the Disasters is a good introduction to the Agnostic Front singer's side project for those who have not heard them. I was hoping for something new as that album is two years old, but what we get is a solid choice. "Lost Paradise" by the U.S. Roughnecks sheds some light on the Sacto Oi! scene with this track off of Twenty Bucks and Two Black Eyes. The excellent "Rise Up" from Pressure Point, also from Sacramento, showcases just how far this band has come since the first compilation and is one of this record's standout tracks. Perhaps a full-length from Pressure Point is actually due at some point on the label. If not it should definitely be considered.
The Aggrolites' "Dirty Reggae," Chris Murray's "Let There Be Peace" and closing track "Room to Breathe" by Westbound Train find the record heading into the same reggae direction as was previously ventured on earlier installments. All three tracks offer a nice and welcome break from the mix. The Slackers' politically charged "Propaganda" is one of the best tracks on the release. Victor Ruggiero's trademark vocals coupled with the undeniable talent of the six-piece band is immediately familiar and welcome. Others have come and gone, but it is no wonder that the Slackers remain as the only ska band to have released a track on each of the four iterations of Give ‚??Em The Boot.
Hellcat has had a strong albeit small Psychobilly lineup for the last couple of years and this compilation shows them not only remaining consistent but also adding a band or two in the process. Tiger Army showcase one of the faster tracks from this year's III: Ghost Tigers Rise with "Atomic." If you haven't heard of this band go do yourself a favor and buy one of their records. "Where They Wander" off the debut Hell Yeah! by the Horrorpops seems to defy classification although it does retain some elements of the Psychobilly genre. Rancid's "Dead Bodies" covered by Nekromantix is a fun and relevant cover by one of the label's best bands. I really didn't know what to expect with this song but it turned out well albeit faster than I had imagined. Newcomers Rezurex have the fabulous "Dia De Los Muertos" which is arguably the only new Psychobilly on the record. It is nice to see another addition to the label in this genre and hopefully good things will come from this band.
There are some new bands on the record this year to go along with the rest of the familiar faces. The raw guitar-driven sound of newcomers Brain Failure fit right in on the record with "That's What I Know." Orange's "No Rest for the Weekend" is a pop-infused track complete with a catchy chorus and mid-tempo pace. The track reminds me of a cross between Lookout!-era Green Day and early Riffs. South Central Riot Squad will probably please fans of The Casualties with "S.C. Drunx," a 40 oz. infused song for the punx. Oi! indeed. 12 Step Rebels have the catchy and fast "Skinwalkers" followed by the angry hardcore of "Wasted Life" by The Escaped. Mercy Killers show a lot of promise with their debut Hellcat track "Trauma." After hearing that Craig had left The Forgotten and formed the Mercy Killers I was anxious to hear the first material from them. The signature guitar playing and vocals are evident here. I am excited to see what Mercy Killers will come up with in the future.
Almost all of the tracks flow pretty smooth on this record. However, there is one song that really doesn't seem to fit: the remix of "Romper Stomper" by the Transplants. While the track does add to the variety it also seems a bit out of place. With the new record supposedly releasing on a different label a remix of this older song is understandable. Hardcore fans of the band will like it, although I wouldn't recommend it as a good first introduction to their sound.
Over the past seven years Hellcat Records has introduced the world to a lot of great bands. The fourth installment of the Give ‚??Em The Boot series hopes to further root the existence of several talented artists as well as introduce many new ones. The record offers a tremendous amount of material and has something for just about everyone. Unlike many compilations, the vast majority of the material is both good and completely new. There is a reason why Hellcat has remained at the top of the game. It is high quality releases such as this which seamlessly introduces the up-and-coming to the firmly established all while remaining fresh and palatable. At about $5 it is something everyone should add to their collection.