Rousing songs of booze and rebellion from reinvigorated Aussie Celtic punks The Rumjacks
Release Date: 12th March 2021
Formats: CD, 2LP Vinyl, 2LP Red Vinyl, Download
The Rumjacks are back, reinvigorated with a new singer in their ranks, and they’re ready to get you rocking. Hestia is their new album, their first since 2018’s Saints Preserve Us and their first with Mike Rivkees, the vocalist who replaced founder member Frankie McLaughlin during 2020. And it’s a breathless, pounding, frantic lump of fun.
The Rumjacks have been around for a long time – they were formed in Sydney in 2008. They’ve amassed a huge following, particularly in the live arena, throughout their homeland, and also in Europe (Italy, Greece, Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Netherlands and the UK are all plugged in) and the US. Hestia is their fifth studio album although there are also a couple of live albums in circulation. The current line-up is: Mike Rivkees on vocals, Johnny McKelvey on bass, Gabe Whitbourne on guitar, Adam Kenney on bouzouki and mandolin and Pietro Della Sala on drums. They’re particularly well known for their 2010 single, An Irish Pub Song, a song which bemoans the preponderance of fake Irish pubs in every corner of the world. The song’s delightful refrain of “Whale oil beef hooked! I swear upon the holy book…” has been enjoyed over 68 million times on YouTube!
Hestia, named after the Greek goddess of home and hearth, was recorded (under strict COVID restrictions, it says here…) in Milan, Italy, during August-October 2020. It’s an album that showcases a band at the top of their game. The Rumjacks are masters of the Celtic punk genre and, pretty unusually, they give equal credence to both the Celtic and the punk sides of their art. And it doesn’t stop there. Along with their Irish influence, the band also adds perspectives from their Australian homeland, America (new vocalist Mike is a native of Boston, MAS) and Italy. It all means that along with the goodtime, boozy Celtic punk, there are splashes of hard, riffy, guitar rock, strains of Gypsy folk and even touches of reggae and funk. These guys are excellent musicians, and it shows. Alongside the obvious influence of the Pogues, I was also able to detect hints of Elvis Costello from his My Aim Is True period and, particularly, flavours of Gogol Bordello.
The Gypsy punk feel comes through particularly on the album’s opener, Naysayers and on the excellent Through These Iron Sights. The band displays their folkier credentials on the current single Hestia (the album’s title track), the poppy Rhythm Of Her Name, the singalong Light in My Shadow and the penultimate track, Motion, but even on these, the pace is frantic and relentless. You don’t get much of a chance to lie back and dream when The Rumjacks are around!
Lead single, Sainted Millions, is a corker. The lyrics relate a drunken conversation between the living and the dead. A singalong intro, delivered by the dead legion (in a state of considerable post-mortem inebriation…), develops into a military-ish tune that suits the song’s subject matter perfectly and evokes images of a crazed battalion racing headlong to meet a grizzly death. It’s a magnificent song.
Elsewhere, we’ve got examples of straight-ahead punk with Tell Me What Happens (a song that also comes with a free burst of reggae!), Golden Death and Lizzie Borden and, with Wonderust, a venture into funk territory.
But underlying all of this adventurousness is the solid thump of Pogues-influenced Celtic punk, nowhere more so than on Sainted Millions and Athens to the North, both songs that it’s easy to imagine being delivered by Shane McGowan and Co. And the band’s musicianship shines through it all. I was particularly impressed by the flawless mandolin and bouzouki playing right the way through the album, and Johnny and Pietro show that they’re no slouches either on their (respectively) bass and drums, particularly on Lizzie Borden and Light In My Shadow.
The album comes to the perfect close with Goodbye And Make Mends: a classic, feelgood closing time anthem that namechecks the bustling streets around Union Square in Sydney and sends us all off home, sweating, refreshed and contented. Hestia is a cracking album and a fantastic foretaste of what to expect when The Rumjacks are able to resume their rumbustious live performances.
Watch the Official Video for lead single Sainted Millions here: