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Album Review

Just in time for the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, with American fatalities approaching 4,000, along with uncounted Iraqi casualties, New York-based Irish-American rock band Black 47, led by singer/songwriter Larry Kirwan, devote an entire album to the subject. It's not as unlikely a theme as one might suppose, since, as Kirwan reveals in a sleeve note, the album is "written from the viewpoint of Black 47 fans who have served over there." Thus, the various first-person stories in the lyrics give the songs an eyewitness perspective of the "terrible war" that most affects the sort of working-class Americans who, through a combination of patriotism and career aspiration, have joined either the military or even just the National Guard and found themselves serving in Iraq. The music combines hard rock with R&B and Celtic strains in a style reminiscent of the '80s sound of Dexys Midnight Runners. Kirwan is not above borrowing tunes, as he does in rewriting the traditional "Sloop John B" for the leadoff song, "Stars & Stripes," even retaining the refrain of "I want to go home." He also mixes in 12-bar blues structures ("Sadr City"), while his vocals often take on a rap-like cadence. It's all in the service of providing a grunt's eye view of people actually doing the fighting, people who, like soldiers everywhere throughout history, mostly just hope they can come out of the war alive and in one piece. Kirwan leaves no doubt that he is against the war, nor that he supports the troops, but his main concern is with telling the stories of the Black 47 fans who would rather be in a bar in Brooklyn rocking out to their favorite band than patrolling the dangerous streets of Baghdad.


Formed: 1990

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Black 47 (a name deriving from the year 1847, the blackest year of the Irish potato famine) is a New York-based band made up of Irish expatriates and led by songwriter/playwright Larry Kirwan. In addition to Kirwan (vocals, guitar), the band consists of Chris Byrne (uilleann pipes, tin whistle, vocals), Fred Parcells (trombone, tin whistle, vocals), Jeff Blythe (saxophone), Thomas Hamlin (percussion), and David Conrad (bass). Black 47 plays a mixture of traditional Celtic folk music, rock & roll,...
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Iraq, Black 47
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