In a strange twist of Irish fate, it seems like my path was destined to cross that of Troy Duffy, frontman and main songwriter for the Boondock Saints. The short version of Duffy’s slightly odd story is that he decided to pursue his dream of music over a “straight” career while attending Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, Colorado. He moved with his brother to Los Angeles to chase rock stardom and formed the Boondock Saints.
In a truly Hollywood twist to the tale, he wrote a screenplay while going through the hoops of getting his band off the ground. Ironically, it was the screenplay that became his first success and his movie was produced before The Boondock Saints had recorded a note. Complicating the story even more is the fact that the movie was called…The Boondock Saints. Duffy was even hired to direct the film himself. Starring an impressive cast of actors, the independent film, which took a lot of inspiration from Tarantino flicks, was well-received but never had a major theatrical release (although I rank it as one of Willem Dafoe’s top-notch performances). However, with the money Duffy and the rest of his band (now film-crew members) received for the movie, they put their energies back into music and recorded Release the Hounds.
This strange circle overlaps with my own when I received the album to review. The press release gave me the above tale, which I was initially only interested in because I attended the same University in Ft. Collins for a brief time. I put the album aside for a while I went on vacation. It was while I was still at the beach that my brother told me he’d rented a movie that he loved and thought I’d feel the same. The movie turned out to be…The Boondock Saints. My brother had first seen the film between homework sessions at…you guessed it…CSU in Ft. Collins, CO. He didn’t know Duffy’s story, and I’d never seen the film. I filled him in while he had me watch and I will admit to being highly impressed with the movie.
So, when it finally came time to listen to the album, I already had a connection that made it sorta special. And I had high hopes that musically Duffy was as skilled and entertaining as he was a screenwriter/director. Although I’m inclined more towards the movie after getting to know Release the Hounds, Duffy’s work as a musician wasn’t a let-down. It’s just important to keep in mind that Troy Duffy, along with his brother Taylor Duffy, and bandmates Gordon Clark and Jimi Jackson, set out to create rock music. True, middle-of-the-road, rock music.
Which is not to say that it’s mediocre. It’s just to distinguish The Boondock Saints from the hardcore that MTV has labeled “rock” or the cheesy hair metal of ‘70s and ‘80s rock. The Boondock Saints are about the kind of purity of rock that gets associated with Bruce Springsteen and Led Zeppelin, a sound somewhere on the edge of pop, but grittier and more blues inflected.
In fact, a general characterization of the band would land them somewhere along the lines of Zeppelin cum Bon Jovi cum Live. Electric guitars mixed with acoustic. Distortion sent to the background in order to favor vocals. Vocals that are high and piercing at times, yet never lacking melody. Actual harmonizing from the musicians (all four band member sing). It’s all there the way the mythology says it should be. And in the age of post-rock, emo, and all sorts of vague musical categorizations, that can be a beautiful thing.
Certain tracks stand out more than others, of course. “Two Ravens” may be my favorite track because it mixes the somewhat traditional Celtic origins of which Duffy is obviously proud with a great acoustic-to-electric transition. The CD is even a “Hyper-CD” and comes with a beautifully filmed black and white video to accompany “Two Ravens” that puts the use of digital technology and the Internet to good use. “Three Stones” follows the tradition of “Two Ravens” in its acoustic vein, but the band pulls back enough before they go overboard into the land of Extreme. “Mrs. Hammerstein’s Test” and “Metal Soul” (not heavy metal here) are good examples of straightforward, pretension-less rock songs that rely more on the electric side. The album even closes with a lovely instrumental called “Pipes” which features some great acoustic picking along with…yep…bagpipes.
I think I’d recommend that people approach Duffy’s body of work through the film The Boondock Saints before they listen to the band of the same name. Not because the band is comparably worse, but because the film might be more engaging to a diverse audience than straightforward rock, which seems to have lost some ground among contemporary audiences. However, after the film is over, listen to the album and you’ll be struck with how well they side by side together, complimenting one another. The songs on this disc were written in 1997 and were sidelined by the movie, so its difficult to say what Duffy’s next creative move will be. Whether it’s another film or a new album, it’s sure to be excellent.