Album Review: The Real McKenzies – “Rats in the Burlap”

The Real McKenzies
Rats in the Burlap
(Fat Wreck Chords)

In the US, bands like Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly brought the blend of Irish folk music and working class punk rock to the masses. Their popularity helped to open the doors for a number of other bands mixing folk and punk, from the gypsy punk of Gogol Bordello to the Scottish punk of Canadian based group, The Real McKenzies. These two underdog groups have their own identity, forged from a rebellious European spirit, which fans have rabidly embraced over the years.

Namesake Paul McKenzie is the backbone of the Real McKenzies, the sole constant in a group who has had a frequently revolving lineup since their inception back in 1992. His recognizable voice anchors the songs, which are built upon a classic punk base with flourishes of folk instrumentation and plenty of bagpipes. Long-time fans of the band will know better than to expect a lot of experimentation from the McKenzies. For the most part, this is straight ahead punk rock with lyrics that discuss white collar greed, Scottish independence and a cat that ate some haggis (poor cat!). Bootsy the Haggis-Eating Cat is a quirky jazz number with a lot of swagger. It’s an interesting departure for the group and provides a moment of rest in the middle of the upbeat album.

This is the first release after the passing of Canadian punk rock legend Dave Gregg (also of D.O.A.) and one would hope that he would be proud to see McKenzie back at it in full force. The album closes with “Dead or Alive,” which begins as a quiet contemplative reflection on mortality and lost friends, before the band joins in and it builds to a barroom sing along that seems a suitable tribute to the memory of Gregg.

The Real McKenzies have honed their sound over decades of extensive touring all over the world. Their latest release is a great collection of straightforward punk songs with Celtic undertones. (Dustin Blumhagen)

Purchase Rats in the Burlap here.

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