Down by Law

Last of the Sharpshooters

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Punk veteran Dave Smalley has weathered numerous lineup changes with Down By Law, but he continues to purvey his heartfelt brand of positive punk with increasingly polished style and clarity. Down By Law's fifth album, Last of the Sharpshooters, doesn't stray too far from their punk-rooted musical history, but continues to showcase Smalley's tradition of solid songwriting and good old-fashioned D.I.Y. work ethic. Hardcore punk purists may cringe at the relatively clean production, but Down By Law has never been afraid to sidestep speed and distortion to vary its approach when necessary. Tracks like "The Cool Crowd" and "Concrete Times" display the ever-present personal side of Smalley's writing, a refreshing approach that has endured and strengthened since his days in All and Dag Nasty. Down By Law has by no means abandoned their punk roots, however. "USA Today" and "Guns of '96" are ripe with sonic ferocity and pointed political and social messages. A kinship with the Clash is also evident, particularly on "Urban Napalm," a scathing anti-violence-themed foray into punk-tinged reggae. While this punk-reggae hybrid tends to get overdone by many younger bands, Down By Law uses this particular tool sparingly and effectively, a sure sign they're playing from the heart and not merely cashing in on a trend. Fans of harder-edged punk may find Smalley's lyrics on the syrupy side at times, but "Last of the Sharpshooters" again proves Down By Law to be in the top ranks of artists in the punk genre that are willing to share meaning and message in their music. "Self Destruction" slams the door on their harshest critics and closes "Last of the Sharpshooters" with the dizzying speed and ferocity of early-'80s hardcore, not so subtly implying that Down By Law intends to continue with their tradition of honest, hard-working punk rock for the thinking man and woman.

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