Release Date: November 13, 2012
Run Time: 45:54
2. Angels & Devils
3. Spanish Lady
4. Medley : a. Cruel Of Turf b. The Pigeon On The Gate c. The Battle Of Aughrim
5. Angel Without Wings / Merry Christmas Baby
6. The Waiting
7. The King Of Copenhagen
8. Past The Pint Of Now Return
9. Medley : a.The Connaught Man’s Ramble’s b. Christmas Eve Reels c. Johnny’s On Fire
10. Whiskey Train
11. The Revolution Starts Now
12. Makes No Sense At All
13. Tin Soldiers (from Stiff Little Fingers Tribute)
Sometime back in April of this year, The Mahones announced that they had plans to release a new album in the fall. This came as a little bit of a surprise to me, because it had only been a year since they put out their award-winning Black Irish Album. Shortly thereafter, they started throwing out teasers left and right of what was to come. The band posted on their Facebook page “This will be our best album yet!” An album of biblical proportions if you will. Also, they started hinting at some big names that would appear as guests on what would be known as Angels and Devils.
I always get a bit nervous whenever I hear things like that, because it’s so easy to over hype something, and then have it not live up to the expectations set for it. However, I learned my lesson a year ago, when the Mahones promised to deliver on the Black Irish Album. Suffice to say, I was cautiously optimistic about Angels and Devils. After getting my hands on a copy, it’s clear to me now, that this is the most flawlessly put together piece of work from The Mahones yet. There’s not a single song that lets the rest of the album down.
First, I want to talk about the special guest. We’ve got some Irishmen, Americans, and a handful of artists from the frozen Canadian tundra. Two musicians that everyone should be familiar with are, Jake Burns of the legendary Stiff Little Fingers, and Dropkick Murphys founding member, Ken Casey. Greg Keelor of Blue Rodeo, whom I believe is Katie’s uncle. ( Talent definitely runs in that family.) Rene D La Muerte and Colin Irvine of The Brains, David Gossage of Solstice, Felicity Hamer of United Steel Workers of Montreal, and a man that’s a master of his instruments, Jonathan Moorman of Bodh’aktan.
The album opens up with “Shakespeare Road,” the rockin’ track I’m sure you’ve all heard by now. Finny was asked by his cousin to write this particular song, and being the solid songwriter that he is, he turned out a hit. If I could digress for a moment, Mr McConnell should just write songs about literally everyone. You hear that Finnman? Next album, write me in!
Anyway, “Shakespeare Road” is about Finny and his cousin living in London, and playing in a punk band during the mid-80s. Despite living in horrendous conditions, the guys clearly have a lot of fond memories of that time and place. During the songs chorus, Greg Keelors vocals slowly blend in with Finnys. Gregs voice sounds mature and wise, and its as if we are looking at Finny 30 years from now. As if he is growing older before our very ears, and still reminiscing about all the shenanigans he had with his cousin. Now, I don’t know if this was the intended effect they were going for, but it certainly adds a really cool storytelling element to the song.
The title track “Angels and Devils,” is about giving respect to all of the punk bands out there that are still making music. Especially the ones that face many trials and hardships, but still keep going. I also see this song as a well deserved self high-five from the band. The Mahones have definitely had their fair share of ups and downs throughout the 20 plus years they’ve been playing. One of the best things about this track, is when it makes you smile, and you say to yourself… “There he is!” in reference to Jake Burns playing guitar of course. All of you Stiff Little Fingers fans will know exactly what I’m talking about.
Track number three, is “Spanish Lady.” It’s a traditional Irish song that uses the melody from Mo Ghile Mhear. I’ve heard a lot of variations of this song, and The Mahones cover the version that was made popular by The Dubliners. Having Ken and Finny exchanging vocals on this song was great, as they have a similar style that complements each other well. Speaking of Ken, the song “Past The Pint Of No Return,” talks about an interesting encounter with the Dropkick Murphys. More specifically, with Scruffy Wallace in Hamburg Germany. Apparently, Finny was celebrating his birthday and went out on the town for a night of drinking. He doesn’t seem to recall what actually happened that night, but is told he had a great time, got into a fist fight with the air, and was stumbling all over the place. Overall, it’s a decent song, with a funny story behind it.
“Angel without Wings” (Merry Christmas Baby) is a ballad with the lovely Felicity Hamer. It’s a wonderful Christmas song, that’s definitely going to be played in my household every holiday season. Felicty has a beautiful voice, and the sleigh bell effect does a great job of setting the mood. Like “Fairytale of New York,” there is a little bit of humor on this track. Along with some other similarities to the classic Pogues song, with Kirsty MacColl.
Finny is portraying a character that is professing his unconditional and undying love to his gal. At one point during the song, he says “Merry Christmas babe.” with such a suave tone, you’d swear that you were listening to someone straight out of early Motown. However, this Celtic Casanova has other motives. Beer money. That’s right, he puts on this whole romantic act to score some points with his “Angel,” so he could go out drinking with the boys, on Christmas day. You have to love and ending with a twist. “Angel without Wings” (Merry Christmas Baby) is one of best tracks on the album.
As for the other songs on the album, we are treated with a really well-done Stiff Little Fingers tribute, “Tin Soldier.” “The Revolution Starts Now” is a track with a positive political message, while “Whiskey Train” is sort of a rockabilly tune. Which I must say I thoroughly enjoyed the hell out of. It has a nice bluegrass style baseline, and a nasty guitar solo. I also love how Finny delivers the line “then I met a ghost!” He makes for a believable paranoid, drunken, schizophrenic.
One of the biggest misconceptions about The Mahones, is that they have nothing more to offer, other than this whole drinking and fighting shtick. Just listen to songs like “The King of Copenhagen,” which has awesome an early 90s punk style to it. Songs like “The Waiting,” songs like “Makes No Sense at All.” What I’m saying is, take off your hipster glasses for a moment, then put in your earbuds.
While they might not be your cup of tea, it’s pretty unfair to say they’ve never gone outside the realm of Irish Punk. Their sound and production both have evolved quite well. They are no strangers to experimenting with different styles, as they have done so in the past. I think Spider Stacy addressed the same type of criticism best in the 80s. While reading a Pogues review in some magazine, the reviewer said something to the effect of ( and I’m paraphrasing here) “The Pogues are a bunch of drunkin fightning Irishmen.” Spider just rolled his eyes, and tossed the magazine over his shoulder.
Angels and Devils has an unrelenting intensity throughout the album’s 13 songs. It’s truly a must buy for all fans. The Mahones have now been making music for over 20 years. As one of the biggest names in Celtic Punk, I have a feeling some of you will be using them now as a litmus test for musical taste. And with that, I tip my hat to the Angels and Devils.