CD Review of Iraq by Black 47
Recommended if you like
Flogging Molly, The Dropkick Murphys, Great Big Sea
United for Opportunity
Black 47: Iraq

Reviewed by Jim Washington


he band Black 47 has never been shy about sharing its opinions, nor made its points in particularly subtle ways. On their 12th album, “Iraq,” the New York-by-way-of-Dublin-by-way-of-Kingston rabble rousers turn their attention to, you guessed it, the situation in the Middle East – specifically, the war in Iraq.

The album is so specific, in fact, the track listing reads like a map of the war-torn nation - “Downtown Baghdad Blues,” “Sadr City,” “Battle of Fallujah,” “Ramadi,” etc.

Things get rolling with a clever (but not that clever) reworking of the Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B.” (Sample lyric: “Hey President Bush, what are you doing to us? We’ve been through hell, man, it’s time we went home.”)

The songwriting can come off as so didactic that even Steve Earle would say “now, hold on a minute, how ‘bout a little perspective,” but the band manages to inject some musical charm. There aren’t many folks able to pull of a mix of traditional Celtic music, reggae toasting, bluesy rock and boogie woogie (or many that would try, I suppose.) That staggering mix of styles, in fact, somewhat ameliorates my first reaction to any band, such as Flogging Molly and The Dropkick Murphys, which incorporate their Irish heritage into modern musical idioms -- namely, that they’re no Pogues.

Black 47 avoids the comparison for the most part, by covering so much of the musical waterfront. Plus, they’ve been doing it so damn long now, and so deep below the radar, that you’ve got to give them a ton of credit. Like the Rebirth Brass Band and New Orleans, Black 47 has become inextricably identified with New York City. Named for the worst year of the Irish potato famine, the band of Irish expats got tagged with a “next big thing” label all of 16 years ago. Since then, they’ve been dropped by a major label (Iraq will be released on indie United for Opportunity), and toured, played and recorded relentlessly. Lead shouter Larry Kirwan, in his spare time, has written 10 plays, a novel, a memoir and two solo albums, not to mention hosting five weekly shows on Sirius satellite radio.

The band’s populist bent shines through on Iraq, which gains some momentum as it goes along. It helps to know that many of the songs are based on experiences of the band’s fans serving in the military overseas. The album ends with the pretty “Southside Chicago Waltz” (I hear echoes of The Pogues’ “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda,” but that may just be me) and the Celtic instrumental “Whatever…” It’s not an upbeat note, exactly, but maybe a resigned acceptance of fate.

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