Black 47 | Iraq (United For Opportunity)

black47.jpgKirwan and company checked their anger and righteous indignation at the door, avoiding the kind of sweeping anti-war generalizations that would have hoisted the album on its own well-meaning petard.


Iraq. Just saying the word can get the blood boiling, regardless of which side of the political fence your loyalties lay. In the current political climate, it’s no wonder so few musicians seem willing to address the issue of the War in Iraq at all, let alone with an entire album on the topic. But leave it to a band idealistic enough to think, way back in 1989, that there could be peace in Northern Ireland to be the only ones crazy enough to step up to the challenge.

Black 47’s Iraq succeeds precisely because of what it is not. It is not an anger-filled invective directed at the White House. It is not a one-sided political diatribe—as singer, guitarist, and principal songwriter Larry Kirwan notes in the album’s "mission statement," "the last thing the country needs right now is more didactic posturing." Rather, Kirwan and company checked their anger and righteous indignation at the door, avoiding the kind of sweeping anti-war generalizations that would have hoisted the album on its own well-meaning petard. In Kirwan’s own words, Iraq is "an attempt to portray in song what’s actually going on over there," in tales straight from the frontlines as told by the band’s friends and fans who have served in the conflict.

Kirwan hits the nail on the head from the get-go with "Stars and Stripes," riding a Springsteen-ian combo of driving guitar and blaring saxophone (courtesy of Geoffrey Blythe, a founding member of Dexy’s Midnight Runners) to tell the tale of a soldier as he comforts his friend who has been injured in an RPG attack. The song may be the only one to address the President, but it’s not a missive filled with fury or blame. Rather, the song addresses, in equal measure, the patriotism that led the soldier to serve in the first place and the overwhelming desire to just make it back to the States in one piece. "We’ve been through hell, man," Kirwan sings, "it’s time we went home."

Coming home and dreaming of home are themes that overarch the entire album, most notably in the letters to loved ones left behind ("Sunrise on Brooklyn," "Southside Chicago Waltz"). There’s an element of black humor that runs through the lyrics as well, when the soldiers reminisce about such frivolities as baseball ("I wish I was back home rootin’ for the Padres / ‘Stead of dodgin’ bullets from Mookie El Sadr") and, naturally, the ladies ("Hey, I wish I was back in the US / Where the ladies look divine / Instead of checkin’ out burkas / 47s in their linin’"). The music paired with these songs may be surprising to those unfamiliar with Black 47’s musical arsenal, as it is often celebratory, only occasionally melancholy, and never angry. Black 47’s trademark mix of Irish tradition with modern American rock is still in full force, and sounding fantastic now that they’ve shed the sometimes dated production that mired their early releases. The band paints with a much broader palette than followers like the punk-heavy Dropkick Murphys or Flogging Molly, whether it’s the bawdy blues riff of "Sadr City" or the faux hip-hop (!) of "Downtown Baghdad Blues." The only time the slow songs dip close to maudlin territory is with "Ballad of Cindy Sheehan," a song that could have been—and, on paper, probably should have been—a disaster, but instead reminds that before she became one of the most polarizing figures in modern politics, Sheehan was a mother who had lost her son, and that that loss is what fueled her. "The sweetest light shines from a child’s eyes," Kirwan sings over a gentle tune fit for a lullaby. "Take it away there’s a void / That’s why I gave up my hearth and my home / To testify against this cruel war."

A trio of minute-long instrumentals play snippets of music from other songs, being repetitive without adding to the album’s overall mood, but those three-or-so minutes are the only missteps in an otherwise powerful reminder of our country’s servicemen and women, 4000 of whom have given their lives to the cause and thousands more of which deserve nothing less than a safe trip home. A | Jason Green



RIYL: Bruce Springsteen, Flogging Molly, the Pogues



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