Larry Kirwan,
Keltic Kids
(Pirate Moon, 1997)

Larry Kirwan, as the voice of Black 47, is a red-headed, Irish-American icon of hard drinking, loud rocking, vigorous swearing, wild womanizing and spitting in the face of authority. As a solo singer and producer for Pirate Moon Records, he's a singing storybook for kids. Keltic Kids, released in 1997 by Kirwan's own label, Pirate Moon, is an oddly fun assortment of mostly original ditties for kiddies inspired, he says, by his own desire to stop time for his own growing children.

None of the album's 11 tracks would seem out of place on a Black 47 album. Kirwan's vocals are as strong as ever, and the music behind him is as eclectic as it ever was, drawing particularly from Irish, American and reggae roots. But instead of singing about social injustice, Irish revolutionaries and various wild adventures, Kirwan sings stories about pirates, outlaws, fairies and annoying siblings. Kirwan wrote the lyrics for everything here but one song, "The Wild Colonial Boy," a traditional Irish-Australian ballad he learned in his own childhood from a favorite babysitter. Two of the best tracks borrow their melodies from even more popular traditionals: "The Pirate Boy" is built on the foundation of "Whiskey in the Jar," and "I Won't Play With My Brother," a delightful ode to sibling rivalry, is sung to the tune of "Wild Rover."

The rest of the album is an interesting mix of mostly light-hearted songs like "The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep," which warns of the dangers of late-night sheep counting, "Hookedy Crookedy," telling the tale of a fairy-bought horse, and "I Wanta Be Five," a child's attempt to resist the turning years. There are touches of pathos, too, such as "Arlo," about an 11-year-old Black 47 fan with AIDS, and "Daddy is a Rock & Roller," a cheerful song on the surface which reveals some of Kirwan's own worries about raising children on a hectic schedule of rehearsals and gigs.

Singer/guitarist/keyboardist Kirwan is joined on this solo endeavor by most of his Black 47 bandmates. Geoffrey Blythe plays the band's trademark saxophones and clarinet, Fred Parcells chimes in with his trombone and tin whistle, Andrew Goodsight adds bass and harmonics, and Thomas Hamlin plays drums and percussion. Only Black 47 vocalist/piper Chris Byrne is absent.

Also helping out on Keltic Kids is folksinger Roseanne Cash, who adds vocals to "Billy the Kid" and "Arlo," guitarist G.E. Smith, Tommy Walsh on accordion, Siobhan Egan on fiddle and bodhran, organist Larry Nachsin and backing vocalists Deborah Berg-McCarthy and Cherryl Marshall. Keltic Kids is a collector's piece for Black 47 fans. Anyone else who enjoys Irish wonder tales and has kids (or still retains a piece of childhood within) will enjoy it as well.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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