Anthems and Irish rock go together like corned beef and cabbage. But since early U2 put forth a new vision of pop’s redeeming power, there have been too many platitudes and too much romanticizing of dreary existence. Black 47, however, is an Irish-American band, and in that hyphen lies a world of difference.
Leader Larry Kirwan writes and sings about illegal Irish immigrants holed up in apartments in the white outposts within Queens and the Bronx, in New York City. Black 47 (a reference to 1847, the height of the potato famine) surrounds the tales with lilting Irish pipes and percussion, but also searing guitars, hip-hop break beats, reggae and funk—the background noise heard on the subways of the new promised land. With a reedy voice that recalls Kevin Rowland of Dexy’s Midnight Runnel’s and a style of lyrics that conjures up Born to Run-era Springsteen, Kirwan speaks for those whose link to the old sod is, as a character in one song realizes, sometimes just the shamrock on a bottle of Wild Irish Rose. Long a staple of New York City nightlife, the quintet makes its major-label debut with a rowdy but clear-eyed take on urban life and love and the blurring of cultures. (Kirwan wonders, in “Banks of the Hudson,” whether he’ll survive bringing a black girlfriend to his section of the Bronx.) In every song, Black 47 spurns nostalgia and embraces all who search for a deeper sense of home, wherever it might be. (SBK)