Black 47 | Bankers and Gangsters (United For Opportunity)

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The album finds the band celebrating their twentieth anniversary by returning to more familiar territory, getting in the occasional political dig while concentrating most of their energy on telling stories from the streets of New York City with their patented mix of traditional Irish music and American rock n’ roll.

 

 

On their last album, 2008’s Iraq, Black 47 worked wonders by crafting an emotionally affecting political rock album that shunned pedantic posturing in favor of powerful personal tales told from the viewpoint of both the frontline and the home front. Based on the title, you might assume that Bankers and Gangsters would find the Irish-American sextet trying for a sequel by tackling the recession and the era of bank bailouts and failed mortgages. Fortunately, the album finds the band celebrating their twentieth anniversary by returning to more familiar territory, getting in the occasional political dig while concentrating most of their energy on telling stories from the streets of New York City with their patented mix of traditional Irish music and American rock n’ roll.

Musically, Bankers and Gangsters is very much in the spirit of Iraq, packed as it is with a Springsteenian mix of chugging guitars and blaring horns (mixed with uilleann pipes, flute, and pennywhistle to give it that Celtic kick). But this time out frontman Larry Kirwan has summer and romance on his mind, starting with “Long Hot Summer Comin’ On,” which kicks off the album with a celebratory blast of trombone and sax, the latter courtesy of Geoffrey Blythe of Dexys Midnight Runners (who provide a good sonic comparison to Black 47’s Celtic rock sound). “Izzy’s Irish Rose” finds the heretofore unknown middle ground between klezmer and Celtic rock as Kirwan tells the tale of a Jewish boy on the hunt for a good red-headed Irish lass over music that careens from Irish jigs to “Hava Nagila.” Kirwan is less lyrically subtle when he’s remembering a lost love in “That Summer Dress,” a dress which, he notes gleefully, “spent most of August on my floor.” The band slows things down with the traditional “One Starry Night,” an acoustic song with the cadence of a lullaby to fit the lovelorn lyrics that promise to search the world for a lost lover before somberly concluding “Now that you’re gone, love, I may as well be dead.”
 
Though “One Starry Night” is a beautifully sad song, it also marks where the album begins losing steam as the first of five down-tempo songs that close out the album. Not that slow songs are inherently bad, but in this case, the unrelentingly slow pace stretches for nearly a half hour, and blends the album’s back half into a mush where even a pair of otherwise musically excellent songs (the beautifully swirling flutes of “The Islands” and album closer “Bás in Éireann (Death in Ireland)”) get lost after following a pair of super-slow ballads and the album’s most bizarre story song, “The Long Lost Tapes of Hendrix.” There, our hero plots to rescue the titular tapes from an Irish bank’s vault, only to wind up in a night of drunken shenanigans that ends in a quickie wedding to “two hundred pounds of Sweet Maggie McGuire.” The song is just flat out weird and, at six minutes, far too long.
 
Black 47 is still at their best when they’re in laughing-through-the-pain territory. The title track finds Kirwan digging his claws into all of the “Bankers and gangsters, soldiers and dancers, all locked together in default harmony” as he does his trademark speak-singing/near-rapping over an army of grooving female back-up singers, a bubbly sax line, and a crackling drumbeat. Probably the most fun song of the bunch is “Celtic Rocker,” a poppy ‘80s-ish tune (the guitar riff has a hint of Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” while the sax has an Eddie Money vibe) that is equal parts celebration and send-up of the groupies who work their way around the Irish rock circuit and “Know the songs and the bands who sing ‘em/ The Murphs, the Mollies, 47, the Dubs.” Later in that same song, Kirwan namedrops the Clash, which is appropriate because, at their best, Black 47 bring to mind the pop songwriting chops and heart-on-sleeve passion that the Clash brought to songs like “Rudie Can’t Fail” and “Death or Glory.” While the track sequencing drags things down a bit heading into the album’s back half, it can’t be denied that Bankers and Gangsters introduces a huge batch of great new songs to the Celtic rock canon. B+ | Jason Green
 
RIYL: Bruce Springsteen, the Clash, Flogging Molly

 

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