ALBUM REVIEW – The Mahones “The Hunger & The Fight” (Irish Punk)

The Hunger & The Fight (Cover 1) 2014Review By Dustin Griffin – RATING  5/5 Dragons
From September 2014 Vandala Magazine  READ MORE ARTICLES

I’ve never been to Ireland. Never been to Belfast or to Dublin. But Celtic music always paints such vivid pictures in my mind, I sometimes feel as if I have. You can call that corny, and I guess it is, but it’s the truth. The first time I heard The Pogues, it changed my life. The song was ‘Poor Paddy’ from their masterful debut album Red Roses For Me. The mixture of traditional Celtic folk with the pure madness that is punk rock just floored me. Since then my appreciation, and knowledge of Celtic music and Celtic punk in particular has grown far and reached deep. And for the past twenty years, regardless of the continent you inhabit, you simply cannot mention great Celtic punk music, without mentioning The Mahones.

To say that The Hunger & The Fight is an ambitious undertaking is an understatement. This is a big, beefy, beautiful, well conceived, well executed beast of a record. One that will satisfy the fans, but one that will surprise them as well.

It actually threw me for a loop the first time I spun it through. It has that classic Mahones sound alright, but it also has a depth, a softness and at times a sadness that we haven’t heard from the Toronto Paddy’s previous. It speaks of the protagonists of its stories with the appropriate musical calm, or the appropriate musical fury, depending upon the chapter of the story it’s telling.

The Hunger..(Part One), is the first in a two part set that will conclude in February of next year. It pays tribute musically to the Celtic folk and rock music that has influenced and shaped the lives of the band members over the years. And lyrically to Ireland’s heritage, its fight for independence, the hardships of its people to work and to eat and live in a land that at times has been cold and unwelcoming even to its natives. It tells a story of a strong and brave nation, all in a gorgeous cacophony of stringed and percussive instrumentation, the tale spun in singer Finny McConnell’s recognizable Irish delivery.

The record offers a nice mix of tempos and styles that ensure it never bores and always keeps the listener guessing at what the next track will sound like. Songs like the fiery opening track ‘Brian Boru’s March’; the upstart anthem ‘Prisoner 1082’, about Finny’s uncle, a man who escaped from Crumlin Road Prison in Belfast (the only person ever to do so); ‘A Pint of Plain (A Dropof the Pure )’ a Irish drinking song, uniquely about the perils of drinking in excess and in the disease that is alcoholism; and ‘St. Patrick’s Day Irish Punk Song’ a tongue in cheek autobiographical raver about The Mahones’ first show and their most well known song ‘Drunken Irish Bastard’, all have a punk-y energy about them. While the heartfelt belter ‘The Hunger & The Fight’; the Oscar Wilde tribute ‘Stars’; and the romantic lullaby ‘Someone Saved Me’, are slower, more deliberate melodies, perfect for accompanying a pint at the end of the workday. Elsewhere, you have my personal favorite tunes on the record, a chain gang version of Brendan Behan’s beautiful poem ‘The Auld Triangle’, which features little more than an acoustic guitar, a couple of voices and a hell of a lot of feeling. And my favorite, ‘Paddy on the Railway.’

Remember when I told you that the first Pogues song and probably the first Irish punk song I ever heard was ‘Poor Paddy’? Well imagine my great delight at finding the very same classic composition as done by The Mahones on this fine recording. ‘Paddy’ features a number of highlights: it follows a similar musical pattern as the Pogues version; it features one of my favorite Irish vocalists in Tony Duggins of The Tossers as lead singer; and it features some firebrand accordion courtesy of Katie Kaboom and ripping tin whistle courtesy of Michael O’Grady (was there ever a finer Irish name than that?).

In fact this record is filled to the brim with amazing talent. As well as Finny, Katie and Michael, The Mahones are Dominic Whelan, Paul Mancuso and Sean Winter. Their guests are none other than Simon Townhend himself of The Who, Dave Baksh of Sum 41 (past) and Black Cat Attack (present), Tara Slone of Joydrop, Miranda Mulholland of Great Lake Swimmers and Belle Starr, David Gossage of Orealis, Peter Kelly of The Doggy Few, Jonathan Moorman of Bodh’aktan and Andrew Brown of The Legendary Mahone.

That’s a lot of heavy hitters for one record (one half if you count Part Two) and it shows. The Hunger & The Fight is a great achievement in The Mahones’ career and an exciting step forward. It tells beautiful, at times heartbreaking stories with great Celtic music panache both traditional and modern and sets the anticipation high for its follow up.

I’ve never been to Ireland. But when I listen to this record, I feel as if I have.


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