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Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
Artist: Luka Bloom
Length:13 Tracks, 51.11 minutes
If you have never heard the music of Luka Bloom you are missing out on something wonderful. This live album is the icing on the cake of a brilliant career.
For over 30 years, this Irish folk-singer (brother of another legend of the style, Christy Moore) has been playing, writing and recording in his homeland as well as touring the world, making friends with Sinead O’Connor, Lou Reed, David Byrne and Roseanne Cash along the way and pushing the boundaries of folk music to places unheard before.
An affliction of tendonitis midway through his career led Luka to change his style from the traditional finger-picking, to a more striking, strumming folk style on his distinctive acoustic-electric guitar, which gives his songs an added power and accessibility. It allows his rich, mellow voice to shine while avoiding the often hick sound of folk-music as heard by young ears attuned to pop radio.
Live albums are usually just for the fans, and Amsterdam is no exception. Nevertheless, it certainly gives the newbie a chance to experience an overview of the full Luka Bloom discography in one fabulous hour, recorded in the city of the album’s title, and helps one appreciate the immense talent and spirit of an artist who has built his recording career on a solid basis of live solo performing.
In 1987, Barry Moore changed his name to Luka Bloom and flew into New York with the aim of breaking into the American music scene. Three years of intense live gigging at New York clubs and building an audience yielded the first studio album Riverside. Two tracks from this album feature on Amsterdam, namely “Gone to Pablo” and “Delirious”; infectious melodies about life and death that are even better live than on the original CD.
The big breakthrough for Luka came in 1992 with the album The Acoustic Motorbike. Putting a twist in the tradition of folk musicians covering other people’s songs, he recorded a truly amazing Celtic-bathed version of the rap song “I Need Love” by LL Cool J, underscored by the heart-beat like sound of a bodhran. Sadly, a live version of that track is not on Amsterdam, but “Exploring the Blue” and “You” are; both warm, haunting melodies of love and the beauty of nature.
Three of the best songs from Luka’s 1994 release Turf, arguably his most popular album to date, are here. The cover, “Sunny Sailor Boy”, “Diamond Mountain” and “Fertile Rock” - like the album they came from - all dwell on the concept of sacred ground and the interconnectedness of humankind with the land. In style and content, earthiness is always synonymous with the music of Luka Bloom. These songs also give the Amsterdam audience an opportunity for participation, which always demonstrates how well an artist connects with their audience. Luka’s rapport with them is warm and they respond with great enthusiasm.
After Turf, a busy touring schedule meant fans had to wait four years for a new studio release. As with many Irish musicians (U2, Sinead O’Connor etc), the aura of a country with such a strong religious heritage infuses Luka’s songs with shades of his Christianity. This is most prevalent on1998’s Salty Heaven. As such, I would have liked to have heard his gorgeous song of faith “Blackberry Time” played live on Amsterdam, but instead Luka settles with “Don’t be so Hard on Yourself”, the only track from this great album.
Luka blew away all preconceptions of what folk music can do with the release of Keeper of the Flame in the year 2000. His cover versions of songs by U2, The Cure, Radiohead, Abba, Bob Marley, Hunters & Collectors and Bob Dylan, should have every youngster who listens to rock radio also reaching for a guitar. The aforementioned “Bob” songs; that being “Natural Mystic” (Marley) and “Make You Feel My Love” (Dylan) feature live on Amsterdam.
Finally, three of my all time favorite Luka Bloom songs from the 2002 release Between the Mountain and the Moon are played. Introduced as “a celebration of love, sex and heavy rain,” “Monsoon” is all it promises to be. Solomon himself would be jealous of the evocative love poetry in this one. Likewise, “Perfect Groove” is self-explanatory, and the final track, “Gabriel”, could as easily have been called “Perfect Album Closer Song” for the sweet lullaby prayer it is. It is as if Luka is blessing us as we go on our way from the spiritual experience of hearing him play live.
Clearly I’m a fan, so it was probably inevitable that I would like this album. Others may wonder why it is so special. His protest songs are conspicuously absent from this collection, but that doesn’t bother me. Luka himself has said many times that he never wanted to record a live album, but this one is a pure celebration for the fans. But if this has inspired you to check out at least one of the great albums in the Luka Bloom catalogue, I can promise you won’t be disappointed. Amsterdam, however, may just be the place to whet the appetite.
Read Luka’s full bio at www.lukabloom.com