By ALAN SCULLEY - Last Word Features
Wanted: A musician to join established band that tours worldwide and has released has six previous studio albums to play banjo, mandolin, bouzouki, guitar and keyboards. No prior experience playing those instruments required.
The Dropkick Murphys didn’t actually place an ad like that when multi-instrumentalist Marc Orrell left the group in 2008. But the musician who got the gig, Jeff DaRosa, would have met those requirements.
A bassist by trade, DaRosa, aside from guitar, had never played any of those instruments when he was contacted by Dropkick Murphys guitarist James Lynch about filling the vacancy in the band lineup.
“He just said I don’t know if you want to learn any crazy instruments or not, but if you do, the job’s open,” DaRosa said in a late-October phone interview.
DaRosa accepted the offer and got to work seeing if he could expand his instrumental arsenal.
“That was the only concern,” he said. “Can you learn these wacky instruments? I wouldn’t say I’m amazing at any of them, but I can do it.”
The Dropkick Murphys were willing to take a chance on DaRosa because he had a history with the Boston-based Irish-accented rockers.
He had been friends with Lynch since they were kids, and DaRosa’s former band, the Exit, had toured with the Dropkick Murphys and was signed to the record label own by Dropkick Murphys bassist and founding member Ken Casey.
DaRosa joined the band in time to contribute to the writing and recording of the seventh Dropkick Murphys studio album, 2011’s “Going Out in Style.” That album turned out to be something of a landmark release for the group.
It became the Dropkick Murphys’ highest charting CD when it debuted at No. 6 on “Billboard” magazine’s album chart. It was also arguably the group’s most ambitious album to date in that it was a full-on concept record.
“Going Out in Style” told the story of a fictional Irish immigrant Cornelius Larkin, as the songs looked back on the character’s lineage and life in his new homeland of the United States.
In addition to the songs, the album’s liner notes included a short story about Larkin’s life, which was written by author Michael Patrick MacDonald.
“We didn’t set out to write a concept album, actually,” DaRosa said. “As we were looking at the list of songs, it kind of came out to us and we were talking about James Lynch’s grandfather, who was Cornelius Lynch, and his story of coming to America. We kind of took from our families’ histories and kind of made a fictional concept around it.”
“Going Out in Style” was well received critically and helped continue the gradual growth in national popularity that has characterized the Dropkick Murphys’ 16-year career.
In its home town of Boston, though, the band is hugely popular. The city has been celebrated in a number of the group’s songs, most notably “I’m Shipping Up to Boston,” which was featured in Martin Scorsese’s 2006 Academy Award-winning film, “The Departed” and is currently used (in an acoustic version) as the theme song of the TNT drama “Rizzoli & Isles.”
The group’s local hero status became blatantly apparent in summer 2011, when the Dropkick Murphys played two shows at Boston’s Fenway Park. An 18-song live album from those shows was included in the deluxe edition of “Going Out in Style” when it was released this past March.
“It was amazing,” DaRosa said of the Fenway experience. “Just to say you walked on the grass of Fenway is one thing. But to be able to say you played there, the two nights were great.”
Now the band, which also includes singer Al Barr, drummer Matt Kelly, guitarist/accordion player Tim Brennan and bagpiper/tin whistle player Josh “Scruffy” Wallace, is shifting its focus to the future as it tours this month ahead of the Jan. 8 release of its eighth studio album, “Signed and Sealed in Blood.”
Like “Going Out In Style,” the new CD was produced by Ted Hutt. But this time there isn’t a theme to the songs. Instead, the emphasis was simply on giving fans a collection of fun, rocking tunes.
“What are you going to do after a concept album like that? Let’s just go in the studio and have fun,” he said.
The album, though, required some intense work. In order to have the CD ready for an early January release, it had to be written and recorded between June and August.
“We had to just go in and schedule the studio and get it done and force ourselves to work every single day on it,” DaRosa said. “It was like having a day job, wake up, go to work every day.”
The project, though, was also fun, and DaRosa said that feeling translates to the music on “Signed and Sealed in Blood.”
“The whole album is very uptempo compared to ‘Going Out in Style,’” he said. “They’re fun songs to play live, songs you don’t have to concentrate on so much, just have a good time playing.”