Skinhead (in the original sense of the word: non-racist, working-class) musical tastes have run an uncertain course since the first bootboy moonstomped to the ska rhythms imported into the U.K. from Jamaica. The pounding glam-rock of Slade, the crude but catchy punk of the Oi! bands, even vintage '60s soul -- all have been claimed by skinheads over the years. Perhaps the low point in skin sounds came with the awful metal-core of bands like Warzone and Agnostic Front. Hardcore skins abandoned any trace of their mod roots; indeed, their greasy tresses and slovenly biker-wear would have put them on the side of the enemy back in 1969 (the hallowed skinhead Year Zero). Intermittent ska and Oi! revivals have only brought diminishing returns. What's a skinhead to do?
Beginning in 1997, Boston's Dropkick Murphys marshaled the shaven hordes in a novel but logical direction: toward the rowdy Irish folk revivalism of the Pogues. Drunken, volatile, shambolic Shane MacGowan had long been a skinhead avatar, and Dropkick Murphys vocalist Al Barr has obviously swiped a trick or two from MacGowan. Sometimes the Dropkicks just pile some bagpipes onto straightforward punk rock; other times they turn down the amps and fully indulge their Hibernian fixation. But the Dropkick Murphys' Ireland is a world away from the corny mysticism of, say, Riverdance -- it is a rough-and-tumble pubscape of broken teeth and unbroken spirits. Blackout, their new album, takes its title from a Woody Guthrie lyric that the band set to music (á la Billy Bragg & Wilco). It's a surprisingly appropriate move for the Dropkicks, whose blustery, working-class punk-folk has already spawned imitators like Flogging Molly. This trend isn't going away; count on seeing more bald kids with flat caps and shamrock tattoos in the near future.