What a decade! While the Celtic Tiger roared immigrants flocked to Ireland, and their influence can be heard in the music made by many Irish artists on my best of the decade list. (When we return in January, we will name the best CDs from Irish American artists so no one on this side of the Atlantic is left out!)
Of course, technology changed the music business as digital downloads killed record shops during this decade, making a lot of these import albums easy to get online. It makes one wonder what format an artist will use to deliver a collection of songs to us 10 years from now!
Speaking of technology, check out the best of the decade music page on IrishCentral.com. It is there you will find in depth analysis of each album listed here, along with interviews with their creators.
You also have a chance to vote for your favorites on this list and enter to win a night on the town with Black 47 in Times Square this New Year’s Eve.
AfroCelt Sound System: “Volume 3: Further in Time”
The blueprint of this decade of global assimilation began with a band of Irish and African musicians that began to jam in Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios. Released on June 18, 2001, the Afro Celt Sound System’s “Volume 3: Further in Time” was 70 minutes and 42 seconds of wicked international grooves that sounds like nothing that came before or after it.
Indian dhol drumming converges with furious uilleann pipe trills as Cork poet Iarla O’Lionaird calmly lays his gorgeous prose over this dance party.
Peter Gabriel and Robert Plant do guest vocals in performances that are better than anything they’ve done on their own, but it is the brilliant chemistry of cultures that creates a new, thrilling take on Irish music.
Luka Bloom: “Innocence”
Christy Moore’s kid brother gets lost in the music and begins a Middle Eastern chant in the middle of “Gypsy Music” as flutes and bongo take the listener into a Moroccan rug market.
Musically, “Innocence” is an international album, a possible reflection of a time in Irish history that saw the country playing host to immigrants hoping to roar with the Celtic Tiger.
“He stood and let the music glow, underneath his skin/He felt longing for Algeria, and loving for this song/How the music of a stranger helps the dreamer move along/The carpenter and the fiddler became the best of friends/And Mohamed lives in Galway, where the music never ends,” he sings on “No Matter Where You Go, There You Are.”
There are many songs written about the Irish missing their homeland in a strange place. This song might be the first one written from the perspective of someone missing home while living in Ireland.
The Saw Doctors: “The Cure”
These Tuam lads have always been the bog’s answer to Bruce Springsteen. They spent the last 20 years spinning endearing stories with a reporter’s eye for detail and a saxophone always at the ready. The band once again chronicled Irish life in their unique way.
“The bones of our ancestors are buried in the field behind the shed/they could be lying there oblivious/underneath cement before I'm dead/roundabouts and one way streets/double yellow lines to beat the band/still takes you longer to get anywhere,” sings Davy Carlton on “Out for a Smoke.”
“If Only” told of unexpressed love from the bog, while “Stars Over Cloughanover” was a starry eyed view of the gorgeous skies overlooking Ireland’s left coast.
“Your Guitar” was a riff heavy rocker and a loving look at domestic life about writing a song on the guitar that is a son’s Christmas present.
This album also told stories beyond the stone walls where the grass was green.
Sinead O’Connor: “Throw Down Your Arms”
Sinead flew to Kingston, gathering top Jamaican musicians including drummer Sly Dunbar, bassist Robbie Shakespeare, guitarist Mikey Chung and trombonist Nambo Robinson to record in Bob Marley’s Tough Gong Studios.
They lock into a ferocious roots groove from start to finish. The horns lock in with the rolling bass line and synth chopping on “Y Mas Gan,” displaying a brilliant arrangement that was probably produced effortlessly.
Much attention is paid to Marley when talking about reggae and roots music, for good reason, of course. Sinead shines a spotlight on Jamaican singer Burning Spear, giving the listener a new appreciation for an underappreciated talent.
The rollicking bass line of “Marcus Garvey,” and the slow burning “Throw Down Your Arms” settles the world’s problems in a mellow, dank cloud of ganja smoke.
The folks at VH1 must have seen the same thing I did, and they rectified the situation by releasing a TV special and live CD in 2002.
“VH1 Presents: The Corrs Live in Dublin” saw the camera-ready clan show what they were made of on a small sound stage.
The guitars on their monster hit “Breathless” chatter without the restraint of a fastidious producer, while the drums pound behind Andrea Corr’s “breathless” cooing. She is a relentless flirt onstage, entertaining a number of high watt suitors throughout the evening.
Bono strides onstage and engages in a heartfelt duet on Ryan Adams’ “When the Stars Go Blue,” turning the obscure song into a modest hit during the St. Patrick’s Day season that year. He sticks around long enough to offer a cartoonish country western drawl on the Nancy Sinatra chestnut “Summer Wine.”
The disc also serves as a greatest hits retrospective. Viewers unfamiliar with the band’s back catalog got to hear the heavy Fleetwood Mac influence on tracks like “So Young” and “Radio.”
Album of the decade
U2: “All That You Can’t Leave Behind”
“A mole, living in a hole/Digging up my soul/Going down, excavation/Love, lift me out of these blues/Won't you tell me something true/I believe in you,” shouted Bono on U2’s (then) new hit, “Elevation.”
It was if the line was written for New York in the wake of 9/11. At least that’s how it felt when I heard them playing it at Madison Square Garden a few weeks after the towers fell.
“And if the night runs over/And if the day won't last/And if your way should falter/Along the stony pass/It's just a moment, this time will pass,” Bono sang on “Stuck in a Moment That You Can’t Get Out Of.”
Was Bono some rock and roll Nostradamus, predicting this moment of public mourning when he wrote those lines in Dublin a year before our tragedy?
“All That You Can’t Leave Behind” might be packed with uplifting radio friendly classics, but to myself and many New Yorkers I know this album pulled us through our darkest days.