Not quite as hellacious and rollicking as its previous album, Chicago's Irish/Celtic darlings still make good on the path paved by Shane MacGowan and company.
When the Tossers released their previous album, Purgatory, they were close to bringing back the spirit of the Pogues in their early, glorious days of rum, sodomy and the lash, while falling from the grace of God. Sure, there are other bands like Flogging Molly (which often comes close) and Dropkick Murphys (too punk) that bring to life a similar spirit, but the Tossers could probably do any of the Pogues' albums with the same frantic energy and beer-spilling excitement Shane, Cait and the rest of the lads did in the mid to late '80s. Now, the Tossers are back with much of the same exhuberance on The Valley of the Shadow of Death. This fun, get shit-faced romp hits the ground running with "Goodmornin' Da", as lead singer Tony Duggins and his crew tear through the tune, complete with mandolin, banjo, tin whistle and anything else that fits the Celtic rock motif. "So just lock me up and throw away the key", Duggins sings on this delightful ditty. From there, the band slows down (perhaps a hair too much) on "A Criminal of Me", but it still works wonderfully with a toe-tapping, arm-over-shoulder number that shows more of their musicianship and less of their frantic, frenzied showmanship.
One of the strongest assets the Tossers have is the ability to make the high-tempo tunes roar, while giving the same care and tender consideration to slow, swaying anthems like "No Loot, No Booze, No Fun"; Dee Dee Ramone is name-dropped as Aaron Duggins accompanies Tony Duggins' vocals with a tin whistle and a cast of several providing sing-along barroom harmonies. Then there are softer, Celtic lullabies that glide along almost as beautifully as the slow building, but high quality, "The Crock of Gold", which finds Duggins singing about living out lives on dirty old streets. The band plays the song just under the surface (unlike Flogging Molly's "The Light of a Fading Star") but then break through for a mid-tempo jaunt that is quite appealing and infectious. It seems as if they've decided to go for the mid-tempo ballads more often than the frenetic, high-octane tunes. A strong example has to be the gorgeous, yet simplistic "Late" that is fueled by acoustic guitar and the simple strumming of a mandolin in the distance.
But when you go to this well too often, the result is a few songs that come across as filler, particularly "Out on the Road", and later on with "Go Down Witch Down" that could have been done in the band's proverbial sleep. There's nothing special about either song (or anything which truly jumps out at you) resulting in efforts that seem to be perfect to perform after a hell-raising, foot stomping kind of tune. And that comes together during the highlight, "I've Pursued Nothing", as it gallops along, stopping for nothing and nobody and packing a lot more wallop for its rather rudimentary arrangement. The slower ensuing song "Drinking in the Day" has all the swagger of "Misty Morning, Albert Bridge" minus the big finish. Co-written by Bono and dedicated to Irish balladeer Ronnie Drew, the number ambles along perfectly and should put a smile on your face.
The Tossers are at their best when they mix the fast and the slow together as they do on the Irish and English track "Preab San Ol", a traditional drinking song that finds its footing before diving headlong into a rowdy party or Celidh.