I first heard Down By Law on Epitaph Record’s first Punk-O-Rama compilation which included their song “Bright Green Globe.” I loved the song and soon after that picked up DBL’s latest album punkrockacademyfightsong. The album was an energetic mix of melodic hardcore and pop punk, which considering that who was fronting the band shouldn’t come as a surprise but at the time I was unfamiliar with Dave Smalley’s previous work.
Prior to starting Down By Law, Smalley worked in some of punk rock’s most legendary bands – DYS, Dag Nasty, and ALL. His time in each served him well in creating the blended punk sound of Down By Law that is featured in punkrockacademyfightsong, the band’s third album. The record is a collection of fast, melodic, and poppy songs with a lot of heart and energy. Most of the songs were written by Smalley but some were also written by drummer Hunter Oswald (who also provided vocals for a number of songs). Where this record works, it works brilliantly (“Bright Green Globe,” “1944,” “The King & I,” “Goodnight Song,” “Hit or Miss,” “Solider Boy,” and their fantastic cover of The Proclaimers “500 Miles”) but on the flipside where it doesn’t work, it fails pretty miserably (“Haircut,” “Sam I,” “Drummin’ Dave, Hunter Up,” and “Sam II”). Now I know that those last songs were most likely meant as jokes but they hurt the flow of the record and are ones that I always skip past. In the “thank you” section of the liner notes, DBL thanked 7 Seconds and ALL (back to back in fact) and I remember thinking at the time that their music sounded a lot like taking those two bands and putting them in a blender. At that time I didn’t know that Smalley had been ALL’s first singer (I only knew of Scott Reynolds and Chad Price) or that he has played in one of the first straight edge hardcore bands (DYS) or that he sang on Dag Nasty’s first record. These were all things that I was soon to learn.
Dave Smalley is an excellent song writer with a knack for poignant lyrics. Those skills are on full display in punkrockacademyfightsong. While this isn’t a perfect record, the good songs are really flipping good and totally make up for the weaker moments. Sometimes I wonder if Smalley’s songwriting is better suited for a band like ALL or Dag Nasty though. Not that the folks in DBL aren’t capable musicians, because they are (this band is wicked tight) but the songs that he wrote while in ALL and Dag Nasty shine so much brighter than the DBL material that I just have to wonder. This of course could also just be some of my personal bias clouding my vision seeing as ALL and Dag Nasty are two of my favorite bands of all time. Punkrockacademyfightsong is however a record worth getting if you are a fan of Smalley’s other work. It and All Scratched Up are probably DBL’s best records and both are well worth picking up.