Since we last checked in with Luka Bloom, he has moved from the hustle bustle of Dublin to the craggy coastline of Co. Clare. He has been steadily touring around the globe, favoring Europe and Australia in recent years.
Fans in America might be feeling neglected, which is why he is coming to our shores in the coming weeks in support of his excellent new album, "Head and Heart."
“The making of 'Head and Heart' was as good a time as I’ve ever had in a studio,” Bloom says. “Some of the songs were recorded at home; some in Brian Masterson’s home. But six of them were recorded in Wicklow with the Phil Ware trio, featuring Phil Ware on piano, Dave Redmond on double bass and Kevin Brady on drums.”
The trio coaxes a jazzy vibe from the folk troubadour which he credits to the improvisation of the sessions. Bloom says many of the songs were done on the first take to keep things fresh and immediate.
“The sessions were done in two four-hour sessions. It was the right approach because it makes it fresh. There’s a little bit of an edge. We’re not quite sure what comes next. If I rehearsed more, this could have been more polished and that would have ruined the vibe,” Bloom says.
Not since 2001's "Keeper of the Flame" has Bloom presented an album of other artists’ songs, and this collection is just as eclectic. A rabid Bob Dylan fan, you would expect a covers album to include something like “Every Grain of Sand.”
Bloom throws a curveball by including “Danny Boy” and “My Wild Irish Rose” on "Head and Heart" as well. You might think, as I had, that the world doesn’t need another version of the song. For Bloom, that was the point.
“I feel those songs are so beautiful, but they have been abused in many ways,” he says. “I used to sing ‘Danny Boy’ in the seventies. It was the toughest song to include on the album because it has been murdered by so many people.
“I’m so bored with people using this tragic song from the First World War with all the loss and pain and completely miss the point to show off their vocal talent. It’s not about my voice or pulling on populist heartstrings. It is without fuss telling the story.”
Bloom – given name Kevin Barry Moore, kid brother of Christy Moore – came from the land of St. Brigid in Co. Kildare. It was in a musical family he was brought up, and his journey into song began rooted in traditional music and the all-important song, according to his biography.
He moved from Ireland, first to Holland and then to Washington, D.C. and New York City, and his song changed somewhat to a new sound for the Irish emigrant as the sense of displacement in his lyrics mingled with a positive delight to be exploring the world outside the boundaries of Ireland.
He scored a hit with a folk cover of LL Cool J’s “I Need Love,” which was the beginning of a career steeped in bringing a decidedly Irish feel to the inspiration he took from American sounds and songwriters.
Even his stage name says it all. Luka comes from Suzanne Vega’s song of the same name, and Bloom is of course Joyce’s great Dubliner from "Ulysses."
Bloom also published his first book, "Homeplace," which blends the photographs he has taken on his many tours with handwritten lyrics or unpublished poems.
“After a period of years, I began to take photographs, mainly for myself, so that I can remember where I was. Often when you are on tour scenery becomes a bit of a blur,” he says.
“Many of the photos I took and I enjoyed the most were in my own country. I began to notice there was a connection between the photos I was taking and the lyrics I had been writing,” Bloom says.
“Paula Nolan is a friend of mine who helped me put the poems and photos together. It was a really enjoyable project.”
Bloom is still finalizing a book deal here for "Homeplace." He says the books are too heavy to make the trip to the U.S. with him, so fans are encouraged to go on lukabloom.com to order a copy.
While you’re there, you can check out his tour dates which include a pair of shows in lower Manhattan’s City Winery (155 Varick Street) on May 18 and 19.
I spoke with Bloom on the recording of the new album and what has taken him so long to come back to America. Here’s how it went.
You’ve been away from America for a number of years. What was behind your decision to stay away?
It’s been four and a half years, the longest I’ve been away since 1987. I decided I needed to take a break from the U.S. I had come every year for 27 years and I had the feeling on being on a bit of a treadmill.
For many years, going to America was always special and urgent. The last couple of times I went it got into a routine, and I think routines can be dangerous. So, I explored places like Australia and Switzerland, which I loved. Then I spent a lot of time moving to the west of Ireland.
I’m in Co. Clare now, which is technically 100 miles closer to America from where I was (laughter).
Why come back to America now?
The first thing that struck me is that I missed America. I missed the friends I had around the country. People in America would write and ask if I was ever coming back to America. It felt time to return.
I’m too busy being me to analyze why I do things beyond what I’ve just said – I am just busy being me. For the first time in years, I find myself singing songs in my sets that I associate with my time in Greenwich Village, where I got my start in the States. That’s a sign for me to return.
Tell us about your new record.
It’s a record I never intended to be a record. I’m very slow to start writing again. I need to put down my roots and give myself space and time to do that.
I wanted to immerse myself in raw, beautiful music in the west of Ireland. I just wanted to sing other people’s great songs, just to get myself back into creating again.
“My Wild Irish Rose” – Keith Jarret has played it. I was aware of it but really stumbled on it. I used to sing “Danny Boy” in the seventies.
I am very selective about the Bob Dylan songs that I do. “Every Grain of Sand” that can very easily run away from you.
You mentioned you moved to Clare. Why move at this time of your life?
It’s primarily about music. Clare has been a spiritual home for about 40 years. You run the risk of killing the romance by moving somewhere as opposed to admiring it from a distance, yet I wanted to live here for many years.
It happened very quickly. There aren’t too many places where there’s a normalcy with being a musician. If you live in an urban place, it’s still a bit unusual to be a musician.
There are so many people playing here, you are just one in a community. You can feel like being in the fringes of society in the urban areas, which is not always a bad thing.
I also like the ruggedness of Clare. The light here is incredible. Life is very different. It’s quiet. The days are longer. I still feel very much connected to the land here. It’s very raw.
Any inspiration for new songs coming from the coast of Clare?
I deliberately stopped writing songs. I find it important to get into other areas of life. It’s important to grow and change.
My idea of hell is to write two albums back-to-back that sound the same. So, I have no idea what’s next.
I am a little bit older. I’m in a new part of the world. I don’t know what I want to say, I don’t know if there is anything to say. Stay tuned!