Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Buried Treasure: Black 47 - Trouble In The Land (2000)

This is an updated review that originally appeared here in May 2005.

Black 47, named after the blackest year of the Irish potato famine of 1847, began recording in 1992, but I never had the opportunity to hear them until 2000, and then only because I sampled Trouble In The Land at a listening booth at Borders Books & Music. After that I immediately became a huge fan and even had the opportunity to interview bandleader Larry Kirwan.

Black 47 was a cult favorite with a sizeable national audience but you'll almost never hear them on the radio. After searching the web I discovered they had quite a following, especially in their native New York City.

The only time I've ever heard them on the radio is when Kirwan plays them on Celtic Crush, his own SiriusXM radio show. The program appears on their eclectic rock station, The Loft.

Times change. Borders is gone, Black 47 is too. They broke up after twenty-five years in 2014, and The Loft is on no longer on the satellites even though you can still listen to the station online.

The sextet combined the usual rock line-up of electric guitar, bass, and drums with saxophones, trombones, and a whole host of Irish folk instruments, including those great uilleann pipes. Singer Kirwan surrounded himself with top-notch musicians who played their hearts out. You are never bored by the band's unique musicianship and arrangements and Kirwan's imaginative lyrics.

The band played a loud mix of reggae, Celtic folk music, and punk rock punctuated by Irish revolutionary politics. If you can visualize Bob Marley and the Wailers, The Chieftains, and The Clash all playing on stage together in the same band, you get the idea.

Since Kirwan is also a novelist and a playwright, you should expect something different lyrically. He composes songs that teach us about the Irish political experience on "Touched By Fire," a song about the band's own stage performances on "Those Saints," and a song about the martyrdom of an Irish-American he obviously idolizes on "Bobby Kennedy." There is an anti-hate group message in the title track, and a story about a girl the narrator was attracted to while making Irish folk instruments in "Bodhrans on the Brain." There are references to James Joyce, Irish political leaders Bobby Sands and James Connolly, and John Lennon and the Beatles.

One can not totally describe the sound of Trouble In The Land or the personality of this band. You must listen to fully understand them. Kirwan's left-wing view of everything should not offend those of a more conservative nature. Possibly, that's because they had a member of the NYPD as a band member. Chris Byrne, who founded the group with Kirwan, was their piper at the time this disc was recorded.

Kirwan is not trying to be a revolutionary. All he wants is justice as he sees it.

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