Black 47’s On Fire

cover, On FireMike Stiles wrote this review.

Black 47 remains fronted by the peerless Larry Kirwan, who graces the earwaves with guitar when he’s not busy staging his eloquent vocals. The solid foundation of Thomas Hamlin (percussion) and Andrew Goodsight (bass, vocals) rocks as heavily as ever. And it’s the lovin’ labors of Geoffrey Blythe (baritone, soprano, and tenor sax), Joseph Mulvanerty (uilleann pipes, flute, tin whistle, bodhrán), and Fred Parcells (trombone, vocals, tin whistle) that give this band its honkin’ big sound.

On Fire is a live recording of grand musical and engineering quality. Much of the energy came from the band’s playing to their own audience on their home court of New York City. We kick off with “Big Fella,” a tribute to Michael Collins, that has a rockin’ sax break. Second up is their own take on “When the Saints Go Marching In,” which proves that yes indeed, you can mix Dixieland, Irish riffs, the spoken word, and rock — if you but have the right trombone player.

We have B47’s trademark juxtaposition of thematic contents on this recording. “Czechoslovakia” is an example of Larry’s humorous stories that become surreal through absolutely no fault of the narrator. It precedes “Fire of Freedom,” an in-your-face declaration of the highest ideals that the world’s yet come up with: “You can break down my door / You can even strip search me / You’re never gonna take away / My human dignity.” Not missing a step, the next number comes in with “Bobby Sands MP.”

Closer to Nueva York are the songs “Rockin’ the Bronx” and “Our Lady of the Bronx.” “Rockin'” showcases the truth that hip hop is all about the message, which in this case is the chronicle of the band’s experiences with emergence; like so many others who have cast off the music industry’s shackles, they’ve brazened their way through gigs of asshole audiences yelling out “you suck!”.

“Lady” is a Celt’s vision of Goddess in the City’s concrete confines and features a nicely synthesized Valkyrie chorus. And we can’t go any further until I mention the song “I Got Laid on James Joyce’s Grave,” which is one of the best melds of Celtic and Rhythm ‘n’ Blues I’ve ever heard; the subject matter I’ll leave to its own deep implications. I was mildly surprised to find the lads closing shop with a cover of Peter Gabriel’s lament about South Africa, “Biko.” Perhaps this is evidence of the band’s ambition to bring new life to some of the better material that’s already out there.

Keep it coming, Larry and company! You’re among the best and brightest of the New York melting pot of culture and music, and you’re brewing it in the Dagda’s own cauldron. Irish, jazz, hip hop, rock, Motown, all those traditions are things to play with and morph into each other. What I’d really like to know, though, is why Black 47 hasn’t been made the official Saint Patrick’s Day band on NYC’s own TV show Saturday Night Live?

(Gadfly Records, 2001)

Gary Whitehouse

A fifth-generation Oregonian, Gary is a retired journalist and government communicator. Since the 1990s he has been covering music, books, food & drink and occasionally films, blogs and podcasts for Green Man Review. His main literary interests for GMR are science fiction, music lore, and food & cooking. A lifelong lover of music, his interests are wide ranging and include folk, folk rock, jazz, Americana, classic country, and roots based music from all over the world. He also enjoys dogs, birding, cooking, craft beer, and coffee.

More Posts