Black 47

Live in New York City

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There are several perfectly good reasons why Black 47, despite a huge industry buzz upon the release of their self-produced debut in 1992, have never met with significant commercial success. Singer and bandleader Larry Kirwan blames "an incredibly stupid and shortsighted music industry." He's probably onto something there. But his frequently embarrassing lyrics and always execrable singing probably have something to do with it, too. That said, Black 47 may be one of the best live bands in the country: at their best, their combination of traditional Irish tunes, pure rock energy and frequent digressions into hip-hop and reggae forms make for a thrilling ride. In the live context, Kirwan's ham-fisted lyrics and approximate pitch are easy to ignore in favor of the band's expert accompaniment, especially Chris "Seanchai" Byrne's Uillean pipes and Gaelic toasting. Call them the American Pogues if you like; that sums up the gestalt of it as well as any other comparison. This live album includes all the favorites, most of them in performances far superior to their studio versions: note in particular the joyful crowd participation on "Funky Ceili" and the way that an adaptation of Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds" segues neatly into "We're Desperate." Sure, "Fanatic Heart" is completely over the top, but that's the way it's supposed to be. It's about James Connolly, for crying out loud, and Kirwan thinks of himself as a latter day Patrick Pearse. The music, focus on the music.

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