“YOU don’t want to write about that,” wrote Luka Bloom in an e-mail when I asked him for an interview on Tribe, the album he released a few years ago that has finally made its debut online over here.
“I’m already onto other things. I’m just mixing a new album in New York, so let’s save up the ink for that!”
Fair enough, but when you are as talented as Luka Bloom and incapable of recording a dud album, a music critic will never have a shortage of ink in which to sing your praises. Besides, Tribe is an album that everyone should know about, so consider this review a community service!
“Every time I fall it’s a new beginning,” he reasons on “Change.” Anyone who has followed his career lately knows that Bloom’s lyric has become a way of life for him.
Tribe is unlike anything Bloom has ever recorded. The lyrics and vocal deliveries are quiet affairs, and they are blended with bleak atmospheric musical beds.
The soundscape is reminiscent of the spooky atmospherics that producer Daniel Lanois throws into the mix on U2’s ballads. Metal picks screech across electric guitar strings to create the feel of backing vocals. Gentle electronica percolates in the background. Pedal steel guitars blend with drowsy guitar chords as the singer whispers his prose.
Tribe delivers a consistent mood from start to finish that is equal parts mellow and restless at the same time.
“I am a river passing through/this is what he do/standing on a corner of a Dublin street/staring at a sea of busy little feet/going about our business, push push shove/hoping in our lifetime we’ll find and be in love,” Bloom sings on “I Am a River” as a watery, echoed guitar plays in the background.
On “Lebanon,” he sings over a frisky clarinet, electronic jabs, and a supple standup bass of a land with “blood stained footsteps in the shifting sand” that has a lot in common with Northern Ireland, with “every generation seeing these wars before, caught between a rock and a hard, hard place.”
One of the most striking musical moments on Tribe is “Homeless,” a spoken word piece about the singer’s encounter with someone less fortunate than him during a trip to California.
“It was a homeless man who got me thinking/I felt the usual mix of sorrow for him and the anger for a society that makes a man live like this,” he begins in a smoky, sexy delivery that would give Liam Neeson a run for his money.
You sort of roll your eyes at first, thinking this is yet another folkie rallying against the “haves” on behalf of the “have nots.” Luka then throws the listener a curveball by turning the critical eye on himself.
“It struck me that in a crazy world, there was a man who drives no car, heats no home, in a time of global warming, his carbon emissions are pretty much zero,” he says.
“It struck me that this homeless man from Hollywood is the model urban citizen. I on the other hand live this life of good intentions; I travel the world and try to be aware of the earth. On the road, I drive every day, I fly every day, and heat my home. If all men lived like me, we’d need four planets to keep it all together.”
According to Bloom, the idea for this diverse album came about after he was sent a copy of Tidelines, an album of original instrumental music composed and recorded by Simon O’Reilly.
Bloom explains, “It’s a lovely record, but I immediately was intrigued with the possibility that Simon and I might do some work together. I visited Simon’s studio in Clare, and we hit it off. So over the next months, Simon created music and sounds, and posted them to me to my home in Kildare.
“Not once did we sit and play together. I listened to Simon’s sounds and created lyrics and vocal melodies based on his music. After about six months, we felt we had enough material to make a record.”
Bloom invited David Odlum, an in-demand engineer for the likes of the Frames and Gemma Hayes, to mix the disc and record the vocals. “I play guitar on only two tracks,” he reports. “For once in my working life I got to simply be a singer.”
Tribe is yet another interesting musical departure for Christy Moore’s younger brother in a decade that has had its share of them.
In the last few years alone, frustrated by the politics of the music business and inspired by the independent streak of artists like Prince and Ani DiFranco, he released a string of experimental albums that began with Keeper of the Flame, a straightforward folk album of cover tunes from the songbooks of the Cure, ABBA and Bob Dylan. The world beat of Between the Mountain and the Moon soon followed.
Bloom suffered medical ailments in his hands a few years back that left him unable to play in the furious pace in which his fans are accustomed to hearing him. He turned the weakness into strength when he released Before Sleep Comes, a collection of gentle, flamenco-tinged lullabies that has soothed this reviewer on more than one restless evening. He surprised audiences on his 50th birthday by returning to full strength for Innocence, one of his strongest collection of songs.
The man is alive with creativity, which makes his brand new release, The Man Is Alive, a fitting title. The release is a multimedia affair consisting of two DVDs and one live CD. More on that in the weeks to come!
Bloom will be here in the States for a short tour of the northeast in September, with dates that include the Bickford Theater in Morristown, New Jersey on September 5 and a stop in Manhattan’s BB King’s the following night. He concludes his tour at the Irish Connections Festival in Canton, Massachusetts.
For a full listing of dates or to check out Bloom’s releases, check out lukabloom.com.