Black 47 to appear on The Tonight Show on March 17th with Jimmy Fallon. They will also perform the same night at BB King’s on 42nd Street where their show will be broadcast live by SiriusXM. It’s been quite a year so far for the band who will do their final show in New York exactly 25 years after their first gig in the Bronx in November 1989.
The band will also appear on VHI’s Morning Buzz with Nick Lachey. They have also just received the good news that two of their most influential albums, Home of the Brave and Green Suede Shoes will be re-released by Universal Records later this month.
Black 47’s Pulls Out All Stops on Last Call
This is an article I don’t want to write.
In fact, I’ve been dreading the notion of putting thoughts on the end of Black 47 ever since Larry Kirwan announced that this would be the final year for the band. What a relief it is, then, to have the band end on a high note. On the aptly named Last Call, Black 47 serves a 200 proof cocktail made with a shot of funk and two fingers of Irish malarkey thrown in for good measure. Larry Kirwan saves the best for last, using roots, rock, and reggae to bring the final curtain down on the most influential Irish American band in history.
Geoffrey Blythe (tenor and soprano sax), Joseph “Bearclaw” Burcaw (bass), Joseph Mulvanerty (Uilleann pipes and flutes), Fred Parcells (trombone, tin whistle) make up a band that shifts effortlessly from rock to punk to waltz and over to reggae throughout Last Call.
“I know all these players really well but they still manage to surprise me,” enthuses Larry Kirwan during an extensive interview with The Irish Voice. “Everyone was interested in this album in an acute way because it was the last album of the band and they wanted to make this statement.
What a statement! They rev up the caffeinated power punk on the rapid fire “St. Patrick’s Day” like a band begging the record label to sign them for a first record.
On Last Call, Kirwan was committed to honor the New York music scene as well in his choice of collaborators. “Christine Ohlman has been on our records for years and is an important voice on Black 47,” Kirwan says. “Mike Fazio playing the atmospherics has really added an element of the band over the years as well. Oona Roche, a niece of the Roches, did some great work as well and it was important that these folks be part of the last call, particularly Christine. We always had this big support among New York musicians and it's great to have them in there.”
In recent years, Kirwan has been more known for his work outside the band that includes a string of successful musicals that have had their debut in places like the Irish Repertory Theater and The Cell here in Manhattan. Kirwan’s approach to songs have always been from the perspective of a playwright, with many colorful characters dancing in the melodies over the years. On Last Call, we are introduced to a nice Catholic girl-turned stripper on “Queen of Coney Island” and a fiery Puerto Rican lass with Irish in her blood. “She got long red hair - stretches down to her thighs/Walk just like a senorita - oh those eyes/Blaze like the sun on Puerto Rican Day/But when she get her Irish up, get out of the way,” he sings on the Latin cha-cha of “Salsa O’Keefe,” an early fan favorite at the gigs.
On “Johnny Comes A Courtin’,” the band plays a lazy reggae tune while Kirwan eavesdrops on the letters written between a heartbroken father in Ireland and a daughter who has been taken to Jamaica to work as a slave on the sugar cane farms under the harsh eye of Oliver Cromwell. A romance is brewing with one of the natives and the lost daughter doesn’t know what to do.
“Oh father, dear father, the sun has braised my skin/My poor hands are cut to shreds by the sugarcane/Johnny shows me kindness, his smile has warmed my soul/Oh I need your advice and good counsel.” The lines are sung beautifully by Oona Roche as Kirwan plays the role of the father back home.
“I guess it came from writing plays at the same time as you we're writing songs,” Kirwan says. “I don't think of it consciously like that but I do know critics like yourself have commented on the character element of the songs. When I got into theater I was working on stuff and I didn't know I was doing. I was writing theater and songs at the same time, just trying to survive in the Bronx. Plus, we wanted an earthy element of not writing about what on the radio. No chaste ‘kiss on the cheek’ here in the Bronx! We were writing about what was going on around us at the time. So, I guess the character development in the songs came from that background.”
It wouldn’t be a Black 47 album without an eye for the political and provocative and there’s plenty of that on Last Call. “Let My People In” finds the band railing about the prejudice undertow that’s behind stalled immigration reforms in Washington.
“There’s always been a No Nothing Party that wishes to pull the ladder up behind its members,” Kirwan says. “But immigration is the lifeblood of this country and its economic engine. Then again, I lived here illegally for three years, so I’m probably biased.