The Real McKenzies – [Album]

Sunday, 25 March 2012

While it's true that some bands arrive before audiences fully developed and ready to win them over, others show up bands aren't bad but need a bit of extra time to grow into their sound. Vancouver's Real McKenzies fall into the latter category – for the last twenty years, the McKenzies have just been “really good” filler on Celt-punk mix tapes – but there's no doubt that the band has well and truly grown up, matured and come into their own on their own on Westwinds, their eighth album. No longer wearing the Celtic elements of their sound (pipes and a bit of an “Aberdeen” inflection on the vocal) as a gimmick, the McKenzies actually utilize the sounds of their heritage as a way of informing and enriching Westwinds rather than just tacking them in to make the band stand out from a summer punk festival lineup. That sort of growth really cool to hear and, ironically, that altered methodology proves to be the thing which makes the McKenzies stand head and shoulders above their peers (like Dropkick Murphys, Ths Mahones and Street Dogs) this time out.

After a bit of stage-setting to open the record (“The Tempest” stomps hard with spare instrumentation, and lines like “We are all born free but forever live in chaos/ And we battle through existence on and on!” are self-explanatory), The Real McKenzies hit a sprinting pace down “Fool's Road” which no listener – whether they were a fan of the band before or not – will be able to ignore. Here, guitarists Mark Boland and Kurt Robertson actually manage to match the tempo and melody set by piper Gord Taylor in a way that both intertwines the 'Celt' and the 'punk' seamlessly and functions as the most hypnotic hook the band has written to date, hands down. The speed, delicacy and power of the sound presented in “Fool's Road” is just awesome and the band doesn't break stride or lighten up through songs including “The Message” (which comes close to the sort of New Wave-y style that Against Me has been playing with for the last five years), “My Luck Is So Bad” (the perfect modern-day Scottish lament – you have to hear it to believe it), “The Bluenose,” “Burnout” and “Hallowe'en” either – every step of the way, the McKenzies lock in with a perfect attitudinal cross between Celtic roots and punk brass, and singer Paul McKenzie – now showing a age in his growling throat, but in an aged *and not wizened) way – barges in on top, all “I've survived it all” bluster. That material is great and would be worth the price of admission on its own, but the McKenzies take the album a step further and add some cover songs to the mix in order to show listeners how the dots they're mapping out should be connected. Fine Celt-and-Canadian numbers like “The Massacre Of Glencoe” (by Jim McLean), “Hi Lily” (by Rick Tucker) and “Barrett's Privateers” (a personal favorite, by Stan Rogers) have been laced carefully between The McKenzies' original material in this run-time, but the surprising this is how well they fit in, fit together and flow along here. The inclusion of those songs turns out to be a true delight because, like the improved songwriting on Westwinds, they perfectly enrich the album and actually bolster the authoritative voice of it.

All of those aforementioned elements – the improved songwriting, the sense of history injected into the album and the performances – add up to a rewarding experience in Westwinds. Without meaning to sound condescending, fans already knew that The Real McKenzies were capable of making a record of this quality but, until now, the band always fell short of realizing it, somehow. It might have been a missed vibe or a song that just didn't fit in which threw the band's previous albums off, but there is no hint of any of that here. It may have taken a while, but The Real McKenzies have mailed the mark and released their best album with Westwinds.



The Real McKenzies – “The Message” – Westwinds


will be released on March 27, 2012 by Stomp Records in Canada and Fat Wreck Chords in the United States. Pre-order it here from Amazon, or here directly from Fat Wreck .


The Real McKenzies – [Album]

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Forgive the cynicism, but the Celtic punk craze came and went into the good night a couple of years ago. It sounds harsh and the fans remaining will probably threaten to grace my groin with a well-placed soccer place kick for saying it, but with the Dropkick Murphys uncharacteristically silent (as are many of the UK bands, and The Mahones are content making themed compilations these days) and Street Dogs are sticking to street punk, there aren’t a whole lot of Celtic punks making waves at the moment.

The Real McKenzies are aware of that fact too and, from the first address of Off The Leash, anyone listening can tell that, with a lot of the block clear, they’re stepping up to say that they’re still kicking.

Off The Leash leads off with “Chip” – the quintessential Celt-punk song. With lyrics that tell the story of a boat worker backed with Matt MacNasty’s soaring pipes, The Real McKenzies stomp into form and promise not to disappoint. From there, everybody knows what’s coming; the band pays respect to “The Lads Who Fought And Won” and extols the virtues of a gardener (“The Ballad Of Greyfriars Bobby”) and sings the praises of the punk hospitality that was extended to the band while on tour in Scotland. Are any of these themes new? Of course not – they’re very well worn – but sometimes the game is still fun no matter how old it is and all good things come around again (a fact explained beautifully in “Old Becomes New”).

With that statement made, The Real McKenzies proceed to put the Canadian stamp on Celtic punk with “The Maple Trees Remember” (which is an excellent reworking of the archly Canadian standard “The Maple Leaf Forever”) before diving headlong into fare that could only be regarded as standard for the band. The chords of “My Mangy Hound,” Too Many Fingers” and “Culling The Herd” are uniformly palm muted, both leads and pipes are equal parts fire and nostalgia and spirits flow freely from Paul McKenzie’s every word. It’s a time-honored form.

“Time-honored” isn’t synonymous with ‘boring’ however. There are only so many ways that one can reinvent the wheel, and The Real McKenzies aren’t trying to do that here. They’re playing these songs this way because it’s what they like and wish to express that to an audience. It is as much a statement about the band’s members and for them as it is a record for others to hear and appreciate. Unwaveringly presenting ideas and beliefs is the definition of ‘values’ and, with Off The Leash, The Real McKenzies present theirs unapologetically. It’s not a new idea, but it doesn’t need to be; the good ones don’t go out of fashion.

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