It's difficult to think of a time when honest, compelling working-class music has been needed more than right now. In a country ravaged by layoffs, outsourcing and unchecked corporate malfeasance, someone needs to stick up for the serfs who toil for diminishing wages in an age of inflation, the work-hardened proletariats whose blood and sweat lubricates the thankless machinery of capitalism. Enter the Killigans, a seven-piece, Celtic-influenced folk-punk band that is here to let you know you're not alone in your struggles.
Brown Bottle Hymnal's first track, "Lullabye for the Working Man," starts off promptly with a joyous accordion melody and crashes in triumphantly with guitars and drums as well as some fine tin whistle work. Brad Hoffman's singing voice, a raspy battle cry that is both stirring and melodic, cuts through the musical fusillade like a scythe and drives his lyrics straight into the listener's consciousness. The theme of the common man's life of labor is revisited in "Ballad for My Old Man," a tragic story of a father who is worked to death, at which point the factory calls his grieving wife and asks for her only son to pick up where his father left off.
The storytelling talents of this band aren't limited to the standard fare of hard-luck stories and anthems to galvanize the working class, however. "The Story of Tom Mathine" is a humorous, instantly catchy sing-along about a widely-feared drunken bully who picks a fight with the wrong man, a whiskey-sipping preacher with pugilistic talents, and gets his ass kicked in front of the entire bar. "Radney's Ghost," inspired by a chapter of Moby Dick, is a tale of a man's madness at sea, his visions plagued with images of a lost shipmate. The song rocks back and forth like a rickety ship caught in a furious storm; the group-chants on the chorus sound as if they're being cried out from a beleaguered crew who are desperately trying to maintain control as towering waves crash over the sides of the ship. "Road Down" is a mournful ballad of a heartbroken man who murders his cheating lover and flees down the interstate for an unknown destination, hoping only to escape his sadness and guilt as well as the lawmen who will be coming after him. In addition to the tracks I haven't mentioned for the sake of brevity, the album is rounded out nicely with a lively, banjo-strumming instrumental ("Lessons from the Empty Glass") and new versions of two traditional compositions ("The Old Orange Flute" and "The Holy Ground").
Brown Bottle Hymnal is a magnificent debut from a talented band, devoid of filler and full of hand-clapping, foot-stomping, glass-raising barroom anthems that get better with each listen. If you're a fan of the Dropkick Murphys, Flogging Molly or the Pogues, there's no way you'll be disappointed with this.
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