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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Black 47


Review by Gary Hill

Black 47 has been outspoken with their criticism of the Iraq war from the onset. This CD finds main man Larry Kirwen and company turning in a disc full of their own brand of music that shows that critical outlook. Rather than a lot of protest music, though, the lyrics here have a decided personal approach. That’s because a lot of the music has been drawn from stories told to Kirwen by the group’s fans who are (or were) stationed in Iraq. Musically this doesn’t wander far from the typical Black 47 Celtic music meets pop, punk and hard rock motif. The message is vital and powerfully emotional, though. It’s a great album really and will probably be one of the best of the year once things settle out.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 2 at

Track by Track Review
Stars and Stripes
Raw and punky, Black 47 stir things up from the start with this number. It’s a new classic, angry and defiant. The lyrics hold despair but also determination. We get plenty of traditional Irish music amidst the rocking background, but isn’t that was Black 47 are really all about?
Downtown Baghdad Blues
The sound of a chopper plays prominently on the intro here. The band launch into a mid-tempo rocker with lots of Celtic instrumentation amidst. Kirwen’s vocals are fast paced, part spoken, part shouted throughout much of the track.
Sadr City
This is a screaming, bluesy rock and roll tune with a soaring saxophone presence. The track is soulful and gritty. It’s one of the highlights on show here. This has some serious jazz elements in its arrangement.
Sunrise on Brooklyn
We come back to more typical Black 47 territory with this one. We get a cool horn arrangement on the number.

No Better Friend...
This instrumental is pretty and rather haunting. It has a distant feeling to it and seems to come again like a band marching by.
Ballad of Cindy Sheehan
Appropriately, this one feels like Larry Kerwin does Bob Dylan. For those who don’t remember, Cindy Sheehan was the mother whose son died in Iraq who became the face and the voice of the anti-war movement. They bring in some traditional Black 47 sounds as they carry onward.
The Last One To Die
Starting with an Arabic sort of voice, this becomes a cool jam that has a horn section used rather like the Beatles often did. In some ways this track has a Beatles-like texture, too, but delivered with the Celtic edge of Black 47. We get a soundbite of Bush in his famous “major combat operations in Iraq have ended…” speech.  We also get a snippet of “La Bamba” in this one.

The Fighting 69th (on the road to the airport)
This is a reprise of the music from the last song in an instrumental format.

Battle of Fallujah
This is a powered up Black 47 ballad in essence. It’s a personal story with a powerful musical arrangement. This has a bit of a “drunken sway” to the music. It’s classic Black 47.

A melancholy balladic piece, this is a story of missing a loved one. It just happens that the narrator is serving in Iraq while his love is home in the US.

Southside Chicago Waltz
I really like this swaying, balladic piece. It’s got a great musical arrangement and a powerful emotional story.
This instrumental starts in a classic, flowing Black 47 manner, but shifts out to noisy crunch, a bit like a slow Blue Cheer meets Hendrix before ending.
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