The Standards – Dirty Old Town

A while ago I wrote that I was going to periodically write about bands covers of standard songs. I am finally writing up a follow to Come Out Ye Black and Tans. So, for my sequel, I bring to you Dirty Old Town. This past weekend, I have been listening heavily to Dirty Old Town. This song will always remind me of my oldest boy. I had a Pogues CD in the car and would listen to it, which contained the song, never realizing it was imprinting on him. One day, while in the car with his mom, he started singing a song, when asked what it was, he says in his tiny voice “I’m singing Dirty Old Town”. Today thinking about his little voice saying that makes me grin!

While one may think the song is Irish, given the popularity the Dubliners have given it, it is in fact an English song written by Ewan MacColl in 1949 about Salford, England. My first introduction to the song was through the Pogues and hearing it live by Eddie Delahunt, two different versions – rock vs. traditional. In the interest of brevity, I am focusing on the rock covers of the song, by bands in the Folk Punk and Folk Rock genre (sorry Rod Stewart fans, I just can’t bring myself to even try listening to his version.)

The bands I picked for my comparisons are:

  • Off Kilter
  • Cutthroat Shamrock
  • Hoist the Colors
  • Mudmen
  • The Dirges
  • The Tossers
  • American Wake

Each of these bands puts their own spin and touches on a song that has had a lasting impression. None of them play it in the style in the Pogues. Some are a bit more trad and others are much more rocked up. Off Kilters version is more jazzy than the others, starting out with piano, it has a faster tempo, but little emotional impact to me – the song is more fun than soulful. To me, surprisingly enough, The Tossers give it more of the traditional treatment, keeping with the slower pacing. The American Wake bring the tempo up more from The Tossers, starting slower till they explode with some energy. The speed is fun but the mournfulness and soul are lost in the joyful  playing of the song.

The Mudmen and The Dirges rock the song up the most, though The Mudmen make you wait for it, the bagpipes are the most unique feature of The Mudmen’s version and the vocals evoke more anger than mourning, but considering anger is a reactive emotion to pain, mourning, injustice and hurt, it works well. The Dirges don’t tease you with their hard rocking version, straight from th e gates, it is hard and fast, the music and lyrics much more raw.

This brings me to my two favorite versions – Hoist the Colors and Cutthroat Shamrock. Hoist the Colors is the more traditional of the two, easily capturing the evocative emotions of the song, not rushing through, the longing in the vocals. Cutthroat Shamrock’s version clearly belongs to them, with their Appalachian touch to the song that speeds up the tempo, but not too much. The vocals still capturing the emotion of the song while you are tapping your feet on the ground.

There is not a bad version in the bunch, but if I had to choose only one version to listen to, I would have to give it to the mountain men Cutthroat Shamrock, and that would even be over the Pogues version (some may consider that blasphemy, but just my humble ole opinion.)

Slainte!

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The Standards – Come Out Ye Black and Tans

I thought it might be fun to compare various versions of the standards and give my view on the songs by the different bands. My pilot post is on Come Out Ye Black and Tans by Dominic Behan. My first experience with the song was at the now defunct McNulty’s Pub at Westport Plaza in St. Louis. It was played by an Irish acoustic musician from Kansas City, Eddie Delahunt.

McNulty’s was a special place for me – it was there I learned how important it is have my Guinness served on Nitrogen instead of CO2. My taste buds experienced the heaven of Middleton Irish Whiskey and the hell of potcheen (albiet a licensed and taxed version) along with getting to sample many other fine Irish Whiskeys that opened my eyes that there was more to the water of life than Jamesons and Bushmills. It was also there that I heard my first live Irish music. Eddie Delahunt would come playing every few weeks and his performances were fun and lively.

Every song has a meaning to people, be it good, bad, intentional or not. I am a true American mutt, based on the genealogical research my father has done, puts my family in the Americas prior to the Revolutionary War. The Troubles in Ireland have not affected me or my family – so the aspect of the song as a rallying cry does not sway me so much as the emotion of patriotism and belief in a cause that is worth fighting and dying for. My enjoyment of this song is not the political but the empathy that freedom from oppression is worth the fight.

The songs I pulled are from my personal library, and if I left someone’s out, it is because I do not have it. Secondly, since most of my focus is on Celtic Punk and Celtic Rock, I have excluded traditional versions of the song as well. I have always felt that song with a balance between respect for the tradition but with inspiration to expand, this would be an excellent rock song. It has a hard beat, deep emotion and great lyrics.

Here are the band’s versions I listened to, each song is great in their own respective rights so I have not ranked them, only given my personal take on the songs in no particular order:

  • Saint Bushmill’s Choir – their version is near the top of the list for me. it is well-balanced version of the song “rocked” up. The pace is quickened and the vocals well done.
  • The Kreelers – with the exception of the instrumentation, the Kreelers version leans more to the traditional version, the vocals are even and to me feels lacking the emotional power the song is capable of driving.
  • The Sandcarvers – another good “rocked” up version, The Sandcarvers capture the emotion and beat but the tempo has been slowed down for my taste.
  • The Rovers – here is my favorite version – it starts slow and builds up. The tempo is increased, the vocals drive the emotion of the song – to me it captures the anger while adding great elements of rock to it.
  • The Bleeding Irish – this is perhaps the most traditional of the versions I have listened to for this. Driven primarily by vocals, this song misses the hard percussion I feel can really drive this song forward.
  • The Muck Savages – this is one of the few versions that tip the scales more towards rock and in doing so some of the deeper emotion beyond anger is lost.
  • Between the Wars – another version more traditional than most. I enjoy the vocals and increased tempo. Between the Wars has more instrumentation than The Bleeding Irish but still missing some driving percussion to really rock.
  • Charm City Saints – another scale tipper towards rock with a lot of the deeper emotion lost in taking the surface emotion and expanding on that. The instruments tend to overpower the vocals.
  • Screw City Saints – the intro is my favorite of all the versions I listened to, but like Charm City Saints, the vocals get lost.
  • The Gentlemen – this version has great balance, up tempo and rocks. This one was near the top of my list.

Each song is fun to listen to and they each have something that makes them special. And with a lot things, everyone has a different view on what makes the songs great. The Rovers topped my list as the best balanced between the versions but The Gentleman and St Bushmills Choir are pretty close. The more traditional versions are great when I really want to get the emotional impact of the song and the Muck Savages, Charm City Saints and Screw City Saints are all great on my pissed off, “fuck you” kind of days.

I hope you enjoyed my pilot forray into the looking at the standards and I want to thank my co-worker Carol for not complaining about me listening to the same song for several days in row.

Slainte!