Down by Law

Fly the Flag

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Erratic albums and frequent personnel changes often go hand in hand -- just ask anyone who has followed the creative ups and downs of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. Down by Law went through more than its share of personnel changes in the '90s -- its original 1991 lineup only lasted for one album, and when the band recorded Fly the Flag in 1999, its lineup included singer/founder Dave Smalley (the only remaining original member), lead guitarist Sam Williams III (who had been on board since 1992) and newcomers Keith Davies (bass) and Milo Todesco (drums). Todesco was DBL's fifth drummer, while Davies was its fourth bassist. So considering how many personnel changes the band had gone through between 1991 and 1999, it would be understandable if one greeted Fly the Flag with some apprehension. But as it turns out, this CD (DBL's first album for Go-Kart after spending most of the '90s at Epitaph) is a very pleasant surprise. DBL's 1999 lineup proves to be cohesive, and the band sounds quite focused and inspired on such socio-political alternative/punk fare as "Man on the Street," "Revolution Compromised," "This Is the New Breed" and "Breakout!" (which incorporates Celtic elements while examining the political climate in Ireland and Scotland). Less sociopolitical is "Nothing Good on the Radio," an angry rant about the state of commercial radio in the late '90s. Lumping Tupac Shakur's compelling gangsta rap in with the mainstream Top 40 fare of Mariah Carey and the Backstreet Boys, the song doesn't make its case very well -- that's sort of like lumping Charlie Parker and Dexter Gordon in with Kenny G. But most of the time, Down by Law's lyrics are as sharp as its music. Agree or disagree with their politics, Fly the Flag finds the band continuing to thrive creatively despite all the personnel changes. [The CD was also released with bonus tracks.]

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