You've heard of the British Invasion, when bands such as the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Who, and the Moody Blues began a lasting impact on the American music scene. Well, now we have the Celtic Invasion, spearheaded by Black 47's Larry Kirwan.
These are not the Bing Crosby songs many Americans associate with Irish music, but neither are they the TRAD tunes or rebel ballads favored by more modern Irish-Americans. To some extent, this collection defies categorization, but it definitely has energy, drive and impact.
Larry Kirwan has been on the forefront of the Celtic Invasion for many years, especially as a founder of Black 47, an edgy rock band, combining traditional Irish melodies with driving instrumentation and explosive lyrics that have both inspired and offended. With this collection, Larry brings a lot of that history together, with bands and songs who continue to push the limits of the tradition.
The "in your face" tone of this album is established from the very beginning with a song from Barleyjuice called "Weekend Irish," about Americans who wear suits during the week, but whose "blood runs deep when the booze is cheap." An interlude of "Rising of the Moon" with a bagpipe band style punctuates the tannic wit of this biting commentary.
Scottish rock band Runrig follow this with a tribute to that most quintessential Gaelic sport of hurling, called "Clash of the Ash" a reference to the ash wood hurley stick used by the players. Every small town and village in the Celtic countries has its hurlers, proud of their heritage and prowess. This song even harks back to the martial origins of the sport.
The third track is Larry's own "Uncle Jim," a Black 47 recording, which he says is the true story of his priestly uncle and an adventure to convert the Rev. Ian Paisley to Catholicism. A classic in the tradition of story songs that covers everything from Chairman Mao in 1949 to the Troubles in a divided Ireland. Larry rightly wonders what might have transpired between his uncle and Paisley over a glass of Bushmills if they had't been turned back by the authorities in Portadown.
Pat McGuire was an old mate of Larry's and Black 47 co-founder Chris Byrne, and Larry had heard Pat's song "You're So Beautiful" back in the 90s, when he predicted it would be a hit. It's a very passionate love song that has not been released before, but quite moving. Well done.
You may have heard of Mike Scott and The Waterboys' they've been around for a while. The song "Savage Earth Heart" appears on several of their recordings. On this album, Larry has obtained a previously unreleased version recorded live at Glastonbury, UK. Quite an driving, moving experience to listen to this atavistic paean to the primitive.
John Spillane's "Buile Mo Chroi" alternates verses in Irish and English and plumbs the depth of emotion in asking whether the hearer can feel the "Beat of My Heart" in love, sadness and all the questions of the world. It has the feel of a traditional ballad, but was actually written by Spillane himself.
The album gets even more traditional with a song called "22" by New York band Celtic Cross, from their 2008 Number 1 Irish Voice album"Shores of America." Growing up with Irish immigrant parents, the band was immersed in Irish music, dance, and tradition, yet heavily influenced by rock & roll on the radio; the result is thoughtful pop & Americana with a lively Irish trad flare. Larry asks "What guy in his right mind wouldn't wait 22 days for [lead singer] Kathleen [Fee]?"
"Wacko King Hako" by the Peatbog Faeries is another rhythmic tribute to classic Celtic music, featuring modern instruments and some new age styling to a very pleasing effect.From the title I expected something along the lines of Spike Jones' Hawaiian War Chant, but the combination of synthesizer, bagpipes and drums makes for some excellent listening.Some of it reminds you of the song of humpback whales.
Houston Texas based band The Blaggards weigh in next, with what Larry calls "Paddy Metal Rock" on their version of the traditional pub song "Irish Rover." The combination of driving electric guitars and drums with some brilliant fiddle playing really makes this an outstanding version of the well-known song.
The band Garrahan's Ghost are based out of York Pennsylvania and their Celtic roots show through in the Cape Breton, almost Cajun style of accordion playing with which Dan Shiflet opens "Sullivan's Lake (The Flood)." They call their style "fast paced, angst-driven punk rock" but it also shows influences from The Doors and surf music. Not easily classifiable, but enjoyable.
The next band is a blend of New York grit and Irish culture, with a group that bills itself as the hardest drinking Irish band in New York. In contrast to that, Shilelagh Law's "Meet me on McLean" has kind of country feel to it. Some really nice fiddle playing highlights this ballad of a Yonkers neighborhood famous for its Irish culture and St. Patrick's Day parade.
Hothouse Flowers finishes up the album with a TRAD song called "Si do Mhamo" (also spelled "Si do Mhaimeo"). It's a classic, recorded by such groups as Celtic Woman and Altan, but this Minneapolis band recorded it live on First Avenue with their own flair. The Gaelic lyrics speak of a wealthy widow and the interplay between tin whistle and bodhrán is astounding.
This is an album with a mission: to bring together some of the best Celtic rock that Larry Kirwan has heard, and it succeeds magificently. It features some great eclecticism within that focus, and the variety adds to the appeal. As part of your preparation for St. Patrick's Day, you should definitely pop over to www.celtic-invasion.com and pick up this excellent recording.