Bap Kennedy - Let’s Start Again
I first discovered Bap Kennedy and his unique musical vision back in the late 1980s via an Energy Orchard album. He was the Irish band’s main songwriter and lead vocalist and I was smitten. Fast forward almost ten years and I rediscovered the talented Irishman when his 1998 solo debut, the Steve Earle produced DOMESTIC BLUES was released to an indifferent public. Nevertheless, he has continued to quietly release his albums to widespread critical acclaim and a growing fan base, ringing the musical changes, but maintaining a strong songwriting ethos that has married his love of American music with his Celtic roots. This latest album was recorded in Northern Ireland with his road band augmented by skilled Irish guest musicians and represents yet another step forward for Bap’s versatile songwriting, as he continues to explore and expand upon sounds rooted in his exciting brand of Americana, country and roots rock.
Each song carries in it the depth of his learning, the range of his curiosity, but also the compulsion to create something new and lasting. If, like me, you love the old-school country, then you’ll just love the swing-style Heart Trouble. Pure Texas honky-tonk with Richard Nelson’s pedal steel, John Fitzpatrick’s fiddle and John McCullough’s piano jamming in perfect syncopation behind and around Bap’s laid-back vocal without a hint of a pseudo southern twang that mars so much UK-based attempts at country authenticity. There’s a kind of easy-going calypso feel to Under My Wing, but it’s not overdone; just sounds natural and real. I had empathy with Strange Kid, especially the chorus—we’ve all looked in the mirror and been confused to see: ‘Some strange kid looking back at me; some strange kid that’s what I see.’ Bap Kennedy has this natural skill of being able to write about everyday feelings and emotions and matching them to inventive and memorable melodies. He does it again and again throughout this album with a timeless sound for an ageless crowd.
He sets things up nicely with the gentle, yearning melody of the opening title song. He has a warm, inviting voice and the understated production suits the song’s mood, enhanced further by the delicate harmonies of Brenda Kennedy. Crisp upbeat production and instrumental elements shine on the optimistic, instantly likeable Revelation Blues. A chugging rhythm driven along by inspired fiddle and what sounds like an organ buried deep in the mix. He travels ‘south of the border’ with King Of Mexico with softly stroked acoustic guitar, hints of accordion and a superb Bap Kennedy vocal. There’s a definite 1960s retro feel to the pedal steel driven Radio Waves, with a gorgeous sha-la chorus and a deep-twang Duane Eddy-sounding lead guitar. I could go on and on, but really I’m having too much fun just listening to this quite brilliant album. Though we’re hardly into 2014, this is without doubt the best British country album of the year. And I doubt that any other act will come close to matching it in the ensuing 12 months!