Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Black 47 – Iraq

By turns fierce, fervent, brilliantly lyrical and subtly witty, this is an album that needed to be made and it’s a good thing Black 47 were the ones to do it. To say that this is an ambitious project is an understatement, but it works, brilliantly because frontman Larry Kirwan’s songs tell the story of the war through the eyes of those stuck over there fighting it: the songs here have a ring of desperate authenticity. Whatever the reason for anyone being over there, the inevitable refrain is “just get me out of here alive.” Being an Irish-American rock band that spends most of its time on the road in front of a heavily immigrant, sometimes right-wing audience, Black 47 have heard from both the antiwar and the pro-Bush camps (and until Cindy Sheehan took up the cause of sanity, the band caught considerable flak at live shows for their consistently strong antiwar stance). But there isn’t much editorializing going on here: this album simply recounts the often grisly day-by-day lives of the men and women inadvertently risking their lives for the benefit of the Bush family and Halliburton. The implication – a very subtle but powerful one – is that this is the cost of war profiteering. The characters in the songs on this album didn’t go to Iraq with high and mighty ideals: they either ended up there because they either saw a good payday, or simply some kind of payday, because they couldn’t find one here.

Set to bright, major-key, generally upbeat meat-and-potatoes rock melodies spiced with motifs from traditional Irish music, the songs here paint a bleak picture. Kirwan’s songwriting is typically replete with rousing, crescendoing choruses and plenty of high drama, and within these songs it all works spectacularly well. The album’s opening cut Stars & Stripes appropriates the melody from the old calypso standard Sloop John B., whose chorus – not used here – is “let me go home, please let me go home,” turning the song into a fiery backbeat rocker. “Hey President Bush, what’re you doing to us,” the narrator asks quizzically, as he encourages his dying buddy to hold on, just hold on til the helicopter comes. The big anthem Downtown Baghdad Blues begins with sound of a helicopter fluttering overhead over ebow guitar. “Me I don’t care much about Jesus and Mohammed,” sputters its protagonist, a baseball fan who’d rather be home watching the Padres. “I didn’t wanna come here, I didn’t get to choose,” he adds sarcastically. The following cut, the bluesy, sax-driven Sadr City tells the eerie tale of a GI going out for some R&R guy in all-too-familiar territory: “I’ve got one thing on my mind, I’ve gotta get out of this city alive.”

But all is not so harrowing, in at least such a predictably gruesome fashion, in Sunrise on Brooklyn. “I can’t believe it’s so peaceful…I hope I see the sunrise in your eyes again,” laments a soldier, amazed by the natural beauty of Iraq yet dreading the inevitable attack which could come at any time. The slow, heartwrenching Ballad of Cindy Sheehan paints her dead soldier son as something of a naïf, who would never have believed that the draft dodgers who led this country to war would have ever used false pretenses to do so. The pace picks up with the scorching, sarcastic The Last One to Die, the bridge punctuated by a sample of Bush declaring that “major combat operations are over in Iraq.” The album’s high point, The Battle of Fallujah is a towering 6/8 anthem, something that Black 47 does enviably well: “Don’t let em know that they used ya/ Kicking ass at the battle of Fallujah…if there’s a draft you know damn well yourself this war would be over by dawn…your tax dollars can go to building it all back over again.”

The album’s requisite soldier-missing-home ballad Ramadi begins by nicking the acoustic guitar intro from Graham Parker’s Watch the Moon Come Down and builds from there. In Southside Chicago Waltz, a GI discovers to his horror that for the first time, he’s been sent to the one place where even the police and firefighters in his family are powerless to save him. The album closes with an instrumental that mimics the sound of falling bombs. Not just a great rock record, this is an essential piece of history. Every band ought to be doing what Black 47 has done here. What Frankenchrist by the Dead Kennedys was to 1985, what Wallace ’48 by the Hangdogs was to 2002, Iraq by Black 47 is to 2008. A classic. Five stars, without stripes. Available in better record stores, online and at shows. Black 47 next play New York at B.B. King’s on St. Patrick’s Day.

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March 7, 2008 - Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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