The title, of course, refers to the slogan Woody Guthrie sported on his guitar and, following the path of Bragg and Wilco, This Machine Still Kills Fascists, an all acoustic recording, comprises unpublished lyrics collected by frontman Ken Casey from the archives and set to music to form ten songs bringing Guthrie’s sentiments crashing into the present.
It opens with a gambler’s lament prison song, the narrator serving 99 years for killing the man who stole his woman and then deserted her, ‘Two 6’s Upside Down’ set to a Johnny Cash train rhythm chug, before turning to a swaggery rockabilly twang for ‘Talking Jukebox’, sung in the voice of a jukebox “all lit up with pretty-colored lights” playing out the records speaking of the life of those feeding it (“Who’d have ever believed that one of these days or nights/You’d put a nickel in me and hear every single truth about yourself?”).
Driven by marching beat drums, harmonica (courtesy Carolina Chocolate Drops member Dom Flemons) and delivered in call and response manner, the stomping spontaneously written ‘Ten Times More’ is a call to arms, urging that, to beat the fascists who would oppress, you have to work ten times harder than they do, but then, by way of thematic spin, a duet with alt-country singer Nikki Lane, the Poguesy-folk strummer ‘Never Git Drunk No More’, is a pretty self-explanatory morning after hangover number, Casey asking for one more chance with Lane in the McColl role as the missus who’s locked him out.
Opening with barrelling drums, ‘All You Fonies’ returns to politics, specifically unionisation as Guthrie’s lyrics recount the birth of the NMU, The National Maritime Union founded in 1937 fighting against “the weather/And the stooges too/To win a clean bunk and mess hall/For newly-comes like you” in the face of fierce opposition to form a major organising drive among ship and port workers, with the alleged “phony set up” of the SIU (Seafarers International Union) being founded a year later, Guthrie’s chorus “All you Phonies Bound to lose” a riff on his own “All you fascists bound to lose”. On a historical note, while rivals for years, the two unions merged in 2001.
Hailing from Guthrie’s hometown of Okemah, Evan Felker, frontman with Turnpike Troubadours, guests on ‘The Last One’, a punchy, harmonica blowing, shanty flavoured anthem for the hard lot of the working man (“How can you call a man, ‘a man’ when you treat him like a dog?/And how can you call a man, ‘a man’ when you kill him like a hog?… How can you talk about equal rights, and jail the man that uses them?…How can you talk of freedom and jail the man that talks it?”) with its rousing refrain that “A working man’s hand is the hardest card/In the whole damn deck to play”.
Social commentary takes a break for the throwaway tribal thumping beat of the swampabilly ‘Cadillac’ which is, as you might imagine, about the thrill of driving a Cadillac, then it’s back to shanty mood for the piano and guitar based ‘Waters Are A’Risin’, a song in memory of those who served at sea during WWII as it tells of a ship sunk by torpedo, but the crew remaining in high spirits in the lifeboats (“shooting dice/For greenback dollar bills”).
Its full tilt rowdy for the banjo folk-punk charge of ‘Where Trouble Is At’ (“I slept with Trouble, Trouble’s my dreams/Old Trouble loves me it’s plain to see/I can make Trouble eat from the palm of my hand/I’ll show you out where the Trouble’s at”) before it ends with Casey duetting with Guthrie himself on another WWII anti-fascist number, ‘Dig A Hole’ (“Mr. Hitler/Tell me what are you going to do/Declared war on Uncle Sammy/Bit off more than you can chew”) that wraps the band performance around a rare Smithsonian Folkways of Guthrie’s recording and which also features his grandson Col Quest on dobro.
A rousing reminder that Guthrie – and the issues he sang about – remain as relevant today as they did some 80 years ago, and the good news is that, like Mermaid Avenue, there’s This Machine Still Kills Fascists Vol 2 due next year.
Artists’ website: www.dropkickmurphys.com
‘Ten Times More’ – official video: