Irish song bard Luka Bloom had a brief moment of notice in the United States with his Riverside recording. That record offered a furious and stunning strummed acoustic guitar technique, more like folk-rock than folk itself. His vocals were roaring and impassioned, but his own songs weren't quite there. He was looking deeper, but the writing was still on its way. With the gorgeous Acoustic Motorbike and Turf albums, glimpses of the mature songwriter flashed by, offering proof to both fans and critics of what was to come. Bloom is an artist who relentlessly pursues his muse wherever she leads. 2002's Between the Mountains and the Moon revealed that Bloom mastered his craft and stood in a league of his own. He is unequaled in his native Ireland, and the hoards of American and Canadian singer/songwriters could learn more than a little from Bloom's humility, discipline, and craft. On Innocence, Bloom goes deeper and wider than he has ever even attempted before. These songs are illustrated quietly, with his guitar, acoustic basses, reeds and woodwinds, a derbuka on a couple of cuts, a fiddle here and there, some percussion, a harmonica painting the back of a track, and a couple of backing vocalists when necessary. This is a spiritual record, full of love songs and paeans to the spirits of peace, tolerance, and letting the past go. It is not preachy, it is not strident, but its backbone is solid. It opens with gorgeous "Primavera," a quietly stunning spiritual love song that bares the singer's heart as nakedly open, willing to be touched and healed by the Beloved. Bloom's acoustic guitar is extended and illustrated by Kenneth Edge's soprano saxophone. Elsewhere, on the title cut Bloom recalls his Catholic upbringing wistfully and the scenes of childhood. "Venus" is a pledge of love and commitment that is so quietly tense and serious it chills the listener. The most profound song on the set is "Miracle Cure," and its plea for forgiveness. It's social commentary free from clichés or bombast. It's a small plea, one from an individual, one who recognizes his need for it and to give it and offers this realization as a prayer for the world. It's followed by a laid-back, sweet, spring-like instrumental called "Peace on Earth." Bloom displays his skills as a guitarist on "Gypsy Music," but something else rears its head: the Celtic bard. Bloom's lyrics have become so elegant, so utterly his own -- part story, part drama, all lyric, and tight. The elements are drawn from various traditions ancient and modern, but they all end up in his musical tales and reveries. Take the story of the famine recounted in "City of Chicago," or the pastoral meditation of "June." "No Matter Where You Go, There You Are" is the tale of a Muslim carpenter who leaves Algeria and travels across Europe until he hears the sound of a musician and traces that sound to its origin. The tenderness in his portrait of this man is utterly empathic. And it's that tenderness that sets Bloom apart, a notion that has crept into his work and asserted itself over ten studio albums. This is simply Bloom's finest moment on record. He's learned a lot and it's on offer simply for the listening -- but don't be deceived by his apparent simplicity. It takes years to develop this direct kind of communication, one where the artist and his art are one and the same. His entire journey has put him in that rarefied world of songwriters who stubbornly eke out a living away from the limelight while creating great art; they deliver recordings only when they have something to say. Count in Bloom's company John Martyn, Jackie Leven, and Michael Chapman.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek