Last Call is effectively the final album for Black 47. If you don't know, Black 47 are a New York City-based Celtic rock band with fairly well defined Irish Republican sympathies. The band was formed in 1989 by Larry Kirwan and Chris Byrne, and derives its name from a traditional term for the summer of 1847, the worst year of the Great Irish Famine. Over the course of some 16 albums, the music has embraced influences from such far afield genres as reggae, hip-hop, folk, jazz and psychedelia. At the center has always been Kirwan's impassioned vocals, musicianship and crack songwriting.
On September 18, 2013, Black 47 issued this statement: “In early November 2014, exactly 25 years after our first gig, Black 47 will disband. There are no fights, differences over musical policy, or general skulduggery, we remain as good friends as when we first played together. We just have a simple wish to finish up at the top our game after 25 years of relentless touring and, as always, on our own terms.” The band decided they wanted to go out in style, and have recorded one final album of new material, and will be tour extensively for the rest of this year.
The album is in many ways a love letter to their fans, and begins with the celebratory, “Salsa O'Keefe,” which plunks you right down in the multi-cultural streets of New York, while “Culchie Prince” starts with the skirl of pipes and a battery of drums, and goes on to celebrates Kirwan's colorful early life in Wexford, Ireland. “Dublin Days” is a Springsteen-ish song of love and remembrance, with guest vocals by Christine Ohlman, and “US of A 2014” is a semi-rapped keen-eyed assessment of modern times. Elsewhere, “The Night the Showbands Died” is a horn-infused ode to times passed, where Kirwan's vocal zeal reminds one of the passionate delivery of The Waterboys' Mike Scott. Oona Roche is the featured guest vocalist on “Johnny Comes a ‘Courtin,” a wonderful series of sonic letters back and forth between a father and daughter separated by her immigration to the Jamaica. The song is set to a reggae/ska arrangement that works effectively well. Another immigration song “Let The People In,” rides along a nice funky beat, while Kirwan's lament for his fallen friend John Kuhlman, acts a atmospheric intro to the indecorous fun of “St. Patrick's Day.”
Elsewhere, “Queen of Coney Island” celebrates a little bit of heaven by the sea, while “Shanty Irish Baby” is a delirious two-step song of home, family and friends. The album finishes with “The Ballad of Brendan Behan” a Dylan-like tribute to the late great Irish poet, short story writer, novelist, and playwright, and a cover of Stephen Foster's classic “Hard Times,” set to rock steady beat.
One will miss the bravado and sheer joy Black 47 brought to the Celtic music scene, and I can only hope that this 25-year anniversary farewell tour and CD are just the prequel to Larry Kirwan and company's 30-year anniversary reunion tour and CD.
The album and tour information is available at http://www.black47.com