Sadly, singer-songwriter Bap Kennedy died of cancer on the 1st of November 2016, just before his final vinyl and CD album, Reckless Heart, was due for release on the18th November. I knew very little about him before this CD crossed my path, but that probably says more about my limited horizons than anything else, since such names as Mark Knopfler, Van Morrison, Steve Earle and Shane MacGowan have worked with him.
Steve Earle described him as “the best songwriter I ever saw“. ‘The best’ is putting it very subjectively, but this is certainly a set of solidly constructed songs that generally lean towards country rock with simple chord structures and strong lyrical and melodic hooks. My promotional copy of the CD doesn’t include information on where the album was recorded, or the other musicians. In general, the instrumentation is restricted to rhythm and lead guitars, piano, percussion and bass, augmented at times by organ and accordion.
‘Nothing Can Stand in the Way of Love’ is a pacey, pop-y opening to the album with a lead break that opens out nicely into some Richard Thompson-ish double-stop bends.
‘Good as Gold’ is about those moments when things go just right – “Sometimes you hear a beautiful lick, you gotta feeling this could be it, and you know just where to go…” Sounds to me like one of those rare moments in a musician’s life where the fingers are exactly where you wanted them to be.
‘I Should Have Said’ is a wistful, slightly folky (in a strictly non-traditional sense) love song about missed chances.
‘Help Me Roll It’, like several of the other songs, reminds me slightly of Van Morrison: not vocally, but in the use of near-blues forms with modern lyrics and instrumentation. Perhaps it’s also that the backing vocals here remind me of the outro to ‘Chopping Wood’ on Morrison’s Down The Road.
‘Henry Antrim’ is an interesting song (the more so if you know that Henry Antrim was one of the names by which Billy the Kid went). Whether the gunfighter’s story held a particular resonance for Bap Kennedy, who seems to have engaged in his share of hard living, I can’t say. Of course, it’s not uncommon for musicians to feel kinship with outlaws and desperadoes. In any case, when the song says “My name is Henry Antrim, and it’s time to go” there’s a certain poignancy in the timing of the album release.
It’s not only the title of the bluesy ‘Reckless Heart’ that is somewhat reminiscent of Hank Williams: though the arrangement is a little closer to Fats Domino, the middle 8 could have come straight out of the Williams songbook.
While it’s rock and roll guitar that drives ‘Por Favor’, when the accordion comes in, it acquires a hint of zydeco – or perhaps Tejano, given the title of the song.
I suspect that ‘Honky Tonk Baby’ is about his bass-playing wife Brenda. There’s another poignant moment – intended or not – in the chorus when he sings “when you make it, please remember me“.
In the ballad-y ‘The Universe And Me’, he sings of being “down here all alone, just the universe and me.” The lyrics are particularly effective on this one.
The last track, ‘It’s Not Me It’s You’, has nothing to do (as far as I know!) with the Lily Allen album. It’s actually a rockabilly-ish song that captures the same cynical tone that the title implies.
On the artist’s website, we read that Reckless Heart is “the culmination of a lifetime of refining the craft of songwriting. Bap Kennedy delivers nothing less than a timeless album that captures the songwriter at his peak“.
Well, I’m not very familiar with his earlier work, but it does seem to me that some of the tracks on Big Picture and The Sailor’s Revenge are more lyrically complex and benefit from a wider range of instrumentation, though there is plenty of attractive lead guitar and country-ish piano (a little Floyd Cramer-ish in places, which is fine by me) behind Bap Kennedy’s engaging vocals. Still, this is an album that has certainly grown on me, and if I was still playing with covers bands, there are some songs there I’d probably want to take a shot at. At any rate, I’ll certainly be taking a closer look at his earlier albums.
I’ve no doubt that Kennedy fans will want it, and I don’t think they’ll be disappointed: as for the rest of us, it’s a more than pleasant introduction to his work.
Artist’s website: http://www.bapkennedy.com/
Bap Kennedy and his band live in Morbegno, Italy: