Luka Bloom returns to the U.S. in a few weeks to support his new CD, “Eleven Songs.”
In recent years, a new album meant a new Bloom for fans to inspect and embrace. His “Before Sleep Comes” album saw the artist abandon his rapid fire strumming in favor of Spanish lullabies, while “Innocence” couched his Irish brogue in Middle Eastern and Latin flourishes. Last year’s “Tribe” found Christy Moore’s kid brother playing around with electronica.
“Eleven Songs” continues in that tradition of reinvention, with brushed drums, fluid fretless bass trills and flamenco style guitar picking that creates a distinct Latin jazz vibe.
When asked about the employment of various textures, Bloom shrugs off the suggestion that he goes from style to style.
“I never made a conscious decision to make a jazzier album,” he says. “The decision was to invite great players into a great studio with great old microphones, and a great live room and to see where the songs could take us in the course of eight days.
“I write the songs as I feel them, then when it comes to the record, I simply ask the question, 'What does this song need?’”
In trying to find what the song needs, Bloom stretches the elasticity of his songs on “Eleven Songs” in the process. Over brushed drums, fluid fretless bass trills and flamenco style guitar picking that creates a distinct Latin jazz vibe, he sings on “There Is a Time” to a friend stuck in his ways, “Are you being right my friend/at the end of your day alone/in the wars you wage with no one/there is a time we must fight for our lives/there is a time we can see black from white,” before encouraging him to “open the window and let the breeze blow.”
“Fire” takes Bloom back to his coffeehouse days in lower Manhattan, churning a blistering social commentary over a forcefully strummed guitar.
“We know we were lied to for another stupid war/living in your headphones, can you hear your dreams/give me some new ideas/everyone has gone online where nothing is real,” he sneers on the track.
“Don’t Be Afraid of the Light That Shines in You” is a gorgeous, epic tune, with strings, choir and galloping piano that calls to mind the best bits of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks.” Bloom says on his website that the song was inspired by a need for community in the face of the tough times we face today.
“There is such a window world for goodness, for community, for sharing, for simplicity, for kindness,” he writes. “And this song is a call to people, to reach inside and be aware of the power in each one of us to do good, for ourselves, for our families, for our friends, for our villages and towns, and ultimately, for our earth.”
A few years ago, he wrote a simple song called “I Am Not at War With Anyone” in response to the tensions caused by American war planes landing in Shannon at the height of the Iraqi war and like that song, “Don’t Be Afraid” is a good natured prayer for the world that leaves you warm after each listen.
“It is a very positive record in a tough time, and I simply cannot wait to bring these songs to America and tour the whole country with them,” he says of his upcoming tour, which begins on May 17 at Joe’s Pub here in Manhattan.
“America is where the Luka Bloom story began in 1987, and it still is hugely exciting for me to come over with new songs and meet friends in many cities.”
I caught up with Bloom as he was returning back to Kildare after his tour in Australia. Here are the best bits.
As a fan, this was a pretty rapid departure that I am still trying to absorb. I felt the same way about Tribe, and while I disliked it at first, I eventually came around and really liked it. Your approach to songs is less obvious, if that makes sense. Is that kind of reaction having the desired effect for you?
I had recorded a few very personal records with a very intimate sound, like Innocence and Tribe. I really wanted to make a bigger sounding record with bigger sounding songs. The most important thing to say is that it was simply a lot of fun making the record this way.
“Fire" is a cool song about how an iPod isolates. People definitely retreat into their worlds once the earbuds go on. Yet as an artist, your page embraces the digital medium (Facebook and YouTube pages) and almost encourages iPod usage.
I see no place in my work where you can suggest I encourage iPod usage! I’m a bit baffled by that observation.
Obviously in this age, people use all the tools available to them to bring their songs and music to an audience. The Internet is such a tool, no more, no less. In fact, in the recent U.S. election, the Internet was used very spectacularly as a tool to bring people together.
The web is not of itself an isolating influence. The song “Fire” reflects on the fact that more and more people choose to isolate themselves behind the illusion of connectedness. The computer in the morning, the earphones on the train to work; the computer in work, the earphones going home, and the television at night.
It is now possible to feel connected in the world without ever actually speaking to anyone. I find this odd in the extreme.
On the same song, you have some strong words about being "lied to for another stupid war," asking "where are the tigers?" Artists like the Dixie Chicks were slammed for being tigers and speaking out. What do you think the current protest climate is for an artist like yourself?
I never worry about the mood regarding protesting in the world. I'm not really a protest singer, but if there is something in the world which is wrong and I'm moved to observe it in song I'll do so, whether the mood is right or not.
In a funny way, the oppressive atmosphere of the past eight years spawned much worthy protest, such as Neil Young's Living With War record. The quality of protest usually improves when the mood is bad, which is as it should be.
Have you been pleased with the reaction to the disc so far? What has surprised you about the reaction?
I've been touring this record since October 2008, in Ireland, U.K., Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Belgium and Australia, and now I'm gearing up for the U.S. Eleven Songs feels to me like a record with a long life, and I will be singing these songs for years to come.
For a full listing of Bloom tour dates or to listen to “Eleven Songs,” log onto lukabloom.com.