by Tom Hallett
Hallett, checkin’ in from the wide-open spaces and big skies of our great 49th state once again. Now, I grew up here, so I do have a bit of an in right from the get-go. But the first thing the average visitor to Alaska notices—apart from the sky-scraping glaciers and the blessed sparseness of human population—is its still-thriving, no-bullshit spirit of freedom and independence. This is, after all, a state that’s threatened the U.S. government with secession, maintained softer marijuana possession laws for years (although, sadly, the last few federal administrations have made sure the state complies with the government’s outdated, moronic stranglehold on personal possession rights), and literally thrives on its artistic, pioneering and fringe elements.
Reviewing the CD I chose this week, I was reminded of my own Irish heritage, and the fact that even though the fights are over different things, and the people live thousands of miles apart, we too should have the strength, the courage, the tenacity and the gumption to stand up against evil and oppression, whether it be on our own shores or those far away. But like Dylan said in “God On Our Side,” and Stephen Stills pointed out in “For What It’s Worth” (a song covered—nay, re-fashioned— fantastically on the CD I’m about to introduce), every side thinks— ALWAYS thinks—that they have right, and justice and the Truth backing them up.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Anger is an energy ...” —
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Only Our Rivers Run Free”
— Christy Moore
Me, I have a hard time justifying any war—especially one that makes a
few greedy old-timers rich (“One thing holds true in all wars!/ Working
class gets to do the fightin’/ Rich white men in Washington do the sendin’!”
howls the first line of one of these songs, and every damn word of it’s
still true, and always will be). Anyway, yes, the rot and poison of our current
system has reached even the farthest, coldest outposts of American civilization
up here in the Land Of The Midnight Sun—the difference is people band
together anyway here—not all of them, but enough to make some difference
—to maintain the barter system, to help their friends and neighbors when
needed, and to offer friendship, open-mindedness and equality to all who pass
through her glorious, glacial gates. If that ain’t American, then we might
as well kiss it all goodbye right here and now.
I guess what I’m saying is that if there ever was a place worth fighting
for, it’s here, it’s now and the system in place will surely survive
long after the credit-based economy in the Lower 48 will—after all, it’s
been working for humanity for several thousand years now. OK, enough gabbin’,
ya Cheechakos—on with the show....
If your taste for authentic Irish music leans solely to Pogues roustabouts
and howling pipes on St. Patty’s Day, this collection probably isn’t
for you. A retrospective of the venerable Irish rock outfit Black
47’s 16 years in the recording, writing, touring and protesting business,
Bittersweet 16 manages to provide the sweet, sorrowful pipes, militant
drums and near scat-rapping style of other, less-political Irish rock outfits,
but skips the clichés, the hackneyed, outdated stereotypes and the woefully
commercial angles other acts of their ilk seem to espouse. The fact that they
sing from the perspective of both old-school Irish folk and the common, working-class
Joe or Jane Sixpack in America—indeed, across the globe—proves that
they’re heads and tails above any knock-off band out there working the
Larry Kirwin & Co. have been laying down the Truth (yeah, the capital T
is there for a reason, don’tcha know, eh?) for nearly two decades now,
and seem to always hit the mark with their politically-themed, gutsy Irish rock.
Highlights on this release (16 cuts, one for each year they’ve been around)
include “Home Of The Brave,” an unreleased cut from their very first
album, “Patriot Game” (ditto), and live versions of classic cuts
like “Big Fellah” and “Bobby Sands MP,” both prime examples
of the biographical song form that Kirwan has formulated and helped to reach
literally scads of high school and college political science courses here in
take this collection as a one-sided, leftist diatribe, though— Kirwin
and Co. have always held the power (and wielded it with honor and pride) to
share both sides of a classic tale or an historical footnote, whether it be
from the opposite side of a long-past Irish battle (once again, see “Bobby
Sands, MP”) or a modern parable (as the band does with their tie-in of
“My Love Is In New York” and “Downtown Baghdad Blues”),
linking the Vietnam War with the current Police Action in Iraq. As the liner
notes to this absolutely-must-own disc put it: “It’s a pity the
Bush administration doesn’t do the same.” At the same time, the
group sings from the POV of a friend railroaded off to Iraq, then re-signing
up, having thought it over and realized that once such a motion is started,
it must be finished—and better to be finished by a stand-up guy and a
trained, honest soldier than a corporate-bought, privateer thug.
Black 47 are as full of contradiction, intelligent discourse and raging soul
as the best of any more world-renowned Irish outfit on the block, including
that one that uses one letter and one number to ID themselves. Check it out
for yourselves, and find a little piece of history—the past, the present,
and a future not yet in play—in every lick, every sad pipe blast, every
rousing chorus of this gorgeous collection of traditional Irish rock with a
modern lyrical slant. More info available at GadflyRecords.com.
That’s all for this week, gang. Tune in next time when I try to achieve
a natural state of bliss by immersing myself in the Northern Lights while standing
nude in a snowbank immediately after undergoing a luxurious, two-hour sauna.
Or was that immersing myself in Alaska Pale Ale while wearing red long johns
with that backdoor flap after finding a working service station restroom along
the Al-Can Highway? Either way, should be interesting stuff—until then—make
yer own damn news.
If you have local music news, gigs, events, or CDs you’d like
to see mentioned in this space, or you’d just like to lie about your own
Irish heritage, send replies and/or cheap whiskey to: Tmygunn777@peoplepc.com.