Black 47,
Live in New York City
(Gadfly Records, 1999)

New York/punk-Irish band does classic reggae. Oh yeah.

The first track I expected to hear on Black 47's new live album was certainly not the Bob Marley classic "Three Little Birds." Sure, they've Irished it up a bit, and they've added a bit of New York attitude, but still...?

Oh yeah. It works. Marley obviously had bagpipes, tin whistles and Irish beaches in mind when he wrote it. Lest fans think the band has lost its hard edge, the reggae beat leads right into a bout of schizophrenia, via singer Larry Kirwan's original tune "Desperate." And tell me Fred Parcells didn't work a little riff of "Music for a Found Harmonium" (originally from New York's Penguin Cafe Orchestra, now a dyed-in-the-wool Irish fiddle tune) in there on his trombone!

This is all from Black 47's latest release, Live in New York City. As the title suggests, the show was recorded at the Wetlands on St. Paddy's Day, March 17, 1998. The album's 12 Irish rock 'n' reggae tracks flow one into the next, without the fades between tunes which mark most live albums. And if your favorite Black 47 song isn't on there, don't worry ... the liner notes promise a second album from the same show soon.

Lead singers Kirwan and Chris Byrne are in their finest form, wailing on the tunes with a zeal only possible in a live gig. (OK, the intro to "40 Shades of Blue" hurts the ears a bit, but they sort it out soon enough.) There are a handful of new, previously unreleased tracks and, of course, the album has some of the band's all-time best, like "Fanatic Heart," a raucous "Maria's Wedding" and a frantic version of my personal favorite, "Different Drummer." There's also a funked-up rendition of "Funky Ceili." It was good before, but the new whistle and sax lines take the "Ceili" to a whole new level of fun.

This being Black 47, you have to expect a socio-political hue to the evening, and the Byrne original "Walk All the Days" drives home some of the band's trademark anger with a nice funky beat. "James Connolly," the tribute to the Irish revolutionary, lacks the fullness of the studio version, but the simpler live version doesn't suffer for it.

Throughout there are snippets of tunes you know you know, Irish jigs and reels and such that fit seamlessly into their surroundings. And for a real musical hullabaloo, give a listen to "The Reels," a dynamic group effort folding an assortment of Irish and not-Irish tunes into a blender and hitting "puree."

The surprise encore to the evening (Don't look if you don't want to know!) is an excellent custom Black 47 take on Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone." How does it feel? Just great, boys.

In addition to Kirwan, Byrne and Parcells, the concert band included Geoffrey Blythe on various saxophones, Andrew Goodsight on bass and Thomas Hamlin on percussion. Besides singing, Kirwan plays guitar and Byrne plays uilleann pipes, tin whistle and bodhran. Parcells also plays whistle and sings a bit, too.

A glance over the band's web page shows them playing regular Saturday night gigs at Connolly's Pub & Restaurant on 47th Street. Looks like I'll be making a road trip soon.

[ by Tom Knapp ]


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