The Black Irish Band,
American Landscapes
(Black Irish, 2004)

American Landscapes is a "musical journey through history -- the people, places and musical styles of 200 years." The Black Irish Band promises a lot and, over 16 tracks, they deliver.

The album opens with a very authentic-sounding sea shanty, "New York Girls." Listen closely to the lyrics and you will appreciate the "salty" sound of this taste of the songs that got the work done and kept spirits up on the sailing ships of a bygone era. "I Was Davy Crockett" is another beautiful and thoughtful song. It reminds us of history but also of our childhood and, at the same time, it is a sort of indictment of the heroes that our children are offered.

From the hero of a bygone age made famous in movies, they move to a hero of the cinema on "Buster Keaton." It's not often that a comedian is lauded in song, but give this a close listen and maybe you will agree that we should have more of them. I loved the Keystone Kops-type intro.

The Black Irish Band has a rare knack for combining the traditional with original compositions. They jump from the battered-hat comedian to a lovely version of "Oh Susannah." They then whisk us from the Deep South to the 49th state on "Alaska." You can almost feel the cold and the crunch of virgin snow under your boots. The banjo and fiddle come out again as you are warmed in "Dixieland."

"Carl, Dennis, George & John" reminds us of the golden age of music in the 1960s when influences from Liverpool and California, and a thousand other locales, changed our perceptions of sounds forever -- although I wonder at George rather than Paul being in the title.

Another unusual track here is the Gershwins' "In the Summertime." The summer theme returns in "Summer Weather" by band member Patrick Karnahan, reminding us again of the West Coast sound of the '60s.

In just under an hour this band actually succeeds on bringing us on a whirlwind tour of history and music spanning two centuries, and all without leaving our chair.

by Nicky Rossiter
29 April 2006

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