BAP KENNEDY – Reckless Heart (Last Chance Records LCR 048)

reckless heartSadly, 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.

David Harley

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Bap Kennedy and his band live in Morbegno, Italy:

Bap Kennedy announces new album

reckless-heart Bap Kennedy

Reckless Heart is released on Nov 18th 2016

Completed earlier this year shortly before he was taken ill, Reckless Heart is the culmination of a lifetime of refining the songwriting craft. Bap Kennedy delivers nothing less than a timeless album that captures the songwriter at his peak

Bap Kennedy was born on the Falls Road in West Belfast in 1962. As a teenager, he played in some local bands before forming 10 Past 7, which got signed to Terri Hooley’s record label, Good Vibrations. It was with 10 Past 7 that Bap got his first national TV appearance when they appeared on Channel 4’s The Tube in 1983. 10 Past 7 lasted until Bap left Belfast for London.

In London Bap became rhythm guitarist, lead singer and primary songwriter for Belfast rockers Energy Orchard, with whom he recorded five albums. When the band left Belfast, they established themselves as legends of London’s live music scene. It was while he was in Energy Orchard that Kennedy first worked with compatriot Van Morrison, who gave the band several support slots to supplement their own hectic touring schedule of both the USA and Europe.

When Energy Orchard split up, Bap had little time to rest, because alt-country superstar, and long-time Energy Orchard fan, Steve Earle soon contacted him, suggesting that he would produce Bap’s first solo album. Bap agreed, and soon found himself on the plane to Nashville, where he would record Domestic Blues.

Earle was later to describe Bap as “the best songwriter I ever saw”. The album made it into the Top 10 of the Billboard Americana and more touring of the U.S.A. cemented the acclaim.

Lonely Street was an artistic project based on, and dedicated to, two of Bap’s childhood musical heroes, Hank Williams and Elvis Presley. In more ways than one, it was music that was made for the love of music, and this was reflected in the consistently positive responses from critics at respected music magazines including Q and Mojo. The Big Picture was a return to working with Van Morrison, who had supported him since his Energy Orchard days. The Big Picture was recorded at Morrison’s studio. All the songs were written by Bap apart from ‘Milky Way’ which Bap and Van Morrison wrote together. The Big Picture features guest vocals from Shane Magowan, lead singer of The Pogues who sings the final verse of the song ‘On the Mighty Ocean Alcohol’.

More excellent reviews from Mojo, et al, cemented Bap’s reputation as a songwriter growing “more mature with every release” The time following the release of The Big Picture was to mark profound changes in Bap’s personal, as well as professional, life. Shortly after Bap brought his hard-living ways to an end, he worked with Mark Knopfler for the first time – appearing as a special guest for Knopfler’s tour of the USA and Europe, including five nights at the Royal Albert Hall, London.

Bap recorded his next album Howl On in his native Northern Ireland for the first time in his solo career. As with Lonely Street, he returned to writing a series of songs on a subject that had fascinated him in childhood. This time, it was a look at his youthful love for all things American, and in particular the story of the moon landings. Howl On was released to widespread critical acclaim and was followed by a successful tour of the UK, Europe and America, including the highly regarded South by South West festival in America and a memorable performance at the Glastonbury Festival.

The Sailor’s Revenge was the outcome of a creative collaboration between Bap and Mark Knopfler – all the songs were written by Bap, but Knopfler was closely involved for a period of two years in every stage of the project from planning the album and choosing songs right through to release. The Sailor’s Revenge is widely regarded as featuring Bap’s most mature and sophisticated songwriting to date –assisted of course by Knopfler’s distinctive, delicious guitar and tasteful widescreen production.

Bap’s album Let’s Start Again was his 6th album of solo material. While Bap usually records in England and America, he wanted to bring together some of the top musicians in his native Northern Ireland to play on Let’s Start Again which was released by Proper Records in March 2014 to outstanding reviews internationally and upon its release, remained for three consecutive months in the Top 10 of the EuroAmericana chart.

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Bap Kennedy THE SAILORS REVENGE

For nearly any singer/songwriter on the planet, the idea of collaborating with Mark Knopfler would be the stuff of fantasy. But for Bap Kennedy, it was just the latest in a long line of projects with high profile, and highly respected, musical legends. For a man who has worked with Steve Earle and Van Morrison, to name just two, an offer to record an album in the Dire Straits frontman’s own studio was another musical milestone. THE SAILOR’S REVENGE, the album that Kennedy wrote and Knopfler produced, features songwriting that grows stronger with every listen, assisted of course by Knopfler’s distinctive delicious guitar and tasteful widescreen production.

“The best singer songwriter I ever saw” Steve Earle

Bap’s first encounters with the record business were as rhythm guitarist, lead singer and primary songwriter for Belfast rockers Energy Orchard, with whom he recorded 5 albums. When the band left Belfast, they established themselves as legends of London’s live music scene. It was while he was in Energy Orchard that Kennedy first worked with compatriot Van Morrison, who gave the band several support slots to supplement their own hectic touring schedule of both the USA and Europe.

When Energy Orchard split up, Bap had little time to rest, because alt-country superstar, and longtime Energy Orchard fan, Steve Earle soon contacted him, suggesting that he would produce Bap’s first solo album.

Kennedy agreed, and soon found himself on the plane to Nashville, TN, where he would record DOMESTIC BLUES. The album featured several of Nashville’s most highly regarded musicians, including Jerry Douglas, Peter Rowan and Nanci Griffith. It was a real success, getting into the top ten of the Billboard Americana chart.

The follow-up album, LONELY STREET, was an artistic project based on, and dedicated to; two of Bap’s childhood musical heroes, Hank Williams and Elvis Presley and his next album THE BIG PICTURE would see Bap returning to work with Van Morrison, who had supported Kennedy since his Energy Orchard days. THE BIG PICTURE was recorded at Morrison’s studio, and included a Bap and Van co-write, Milky Way. The album also featured guest vocals from Shane MacGowan, lead singer of the Pogues, on the song On the Mighty Ocean Alcohol, and a reading from Carolyn Cassady, one of the leading figures from the Beat generation of American writers, at the end of the beautifulMoriarty’s Blues.

For Howl On, released in 2009, Bap recorded in his native Northern Ireland for the first time in his solo career and, much like with LONELY STREET, returned to writing a series of songs on a subject that had fascinated Bap in childhood.

THE SAILOR’S REVENGE features Kennedy’s most mature and sophisticated songwriting to date, an achievement in itself when you consider his back catalogue. Bap is joined by guest musicians such as Jerry Douglas, Glenn Worf and of course Mark Knopfler, all combining to ensure that the musicianship on the album is every bit as good as the songwriting. When it comes to the songs there are simply too many superb compositions to list here. Highlights include the album opener Shimnavale, a place that sits between the Irish Sea and the mountains of Mourne in County Down, inspired by old photographs of a family who lived there and Bap’s own experience as an immigrant. Working Man tells of Bap’s life as a builders labourer in the mid eighties while waiting for a record deal to come along and Jimmy Sanchez was written about the Chilean miners rescue where nineteen year old Jimmy, the youngest miner trapped was quoted as saying that God must want him to change, powerful words, hence the line in the song “I know I must change”.

THE SAILOR’S REVENGE is a phenomenal body of work and as “game changing” as a Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan with no brakes… We urge you all to buy it! folking.com

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Bap Kennedy is touring the UK, this month (March 2012), more information and the latest tour dates can be found at www.bapkennedy.com