Bap Kennedy - Howl On
by Donny Kutzbach
(Lonely Street Discs)
Call him the great Eire hillbilly. Singer/songwriter Bap Kennedy deserves the title of king of Irish high lonesomeness. With a wonderfully rumpled croon and the ability to turn a phrase and tell a story like Hank Williams had he had been born in Belfast, the former frontman for 1980s outfit Energy Orchard has made a series of remarkable solo records. The highpoint of Kennedy’s output to this point has been 1998’s Domestic Blues, an unmatched collection of country rockers and ballads co-produced with Steve Earle. Ten years on, he’s come closest to matching the glorious abandon and aching beauty of that record with Howl On. With less rock-and-roll bite, and leaning on big, wide-open acoustic arrangements, Kennedy straddles the line between Irish folk and bluegrass. It’s something he does well. Here he creates an endearing song cycle of lunar obsession with a ground zero of 1969: the summer of the moon landing and Woodstock. Kennedy knocks around the dark and light sides of the whole affair. On the self-reflexive “America” he recalls a seven-year-old boy waiting up all night for Apollo 11’s touchdown, only to be lulled to sleep by the cowboy voices of mission control. “Cold War Country Blues” ties the space race in with a couple of Bap’s other obsessions: Elvis and the aforementioned Hank. The ambling beauty “Ballad of Neil Armstong” imagines the mindset of Apollo’s most famed voyager as he asks “Can you put in a good word with God/ As I sail my ship into the void.” The inclusion of a cover of the trad murder ballad “Hey Joe”—popularized for modern ears most by Jimi Hendrix—seals the whole deal. Henry McCullough (the sole Irishman who performed on the bill Woodstock…look it up!) adds a searing guitar solo that Hendrix would have coolly nodded in approval of. Part triptych into the final frontier and part journey personal journey into past memories of childhood hopes and dreams, Bap Kennedy runs a genuine sense of wanderlust and wonderment through Howl On. When will an Irishman actually plant the green, white, and orange flag on the moon? It doesn’t matter. Bap Kennedy gets there first with this record.
—donny kutzbachblog comments powered by Disqus
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