St. Patrick's Day may yet be a few months off. But the sounds of Ireland are already making their way to American shores. Or stores, as the luck of the Irish would have it.
New releases by Van Morrison, the Waterboys and Bob Geldof offer fans of contemporary Irish music a varied and exceptional musical treat - one that deserves attention regardless of the season.All three releases reflect their Irishness through different musical styles, and all reflect the vibrancy traditional Irish folk sounds blended with pop music.
The most intriguing of the bunch is Van Morrison's "Enlightenment" (Mercury), a wistful blend of rock, rhythm and blues and religious imagery.
Coming on the heels of Morrison's "Best of" collection, it would be easy to characterize "Enlightenment" as a return to Morrison's musical roots; it does has a rough-and-tumble bluesy feel distantly reminiscent of his work in the 1960s ("Domino," "Brown Eyed Girl," etc.).
Yet when considered in light of Morrison's more recent albums ("Poetic Champions Compose," "Avalon Sunset"), "Enlightenment" represents a fascinating mixture of his many different musical styles into a coherent package that places Morrison's music in the category of masterful.
It's that "past meets the future" that creates a comfortable style that will appease fans of the rock 'n' roll days, as well as those who followed his wanderings through Celtic mysticism. "Enlightenment" represents the best of both worlds.
Throughout, Morrison pays homage to his early influences on the poetry-music marriage - a spirit reflected in his impassioned vocal phrases and the blues-tinged guitars.
Revealing is perhaps a better word for Bob Geldof's "The Vegetarians of Love" (Atlantic), a somewhat enigmatic release of folk-rock that defies too much serious consideration.
"Vegetarians" is his second album since the celebrity-hood that came with Live Aid in 1985, and Geldof uses it to tip his halo a bit. Like on the ironic tribute to apathy, "TheGreat Song of Indifference," in which he whispers: "I don't care if the Third World fries/Baby I can watch whole nations die/I don't care at all."
Considering Geldof's well-documented humanitarianism, the song is probably intended as a backward slap against indifference. But despite its catchy tune, it lacks the humor or irony to make the social statement he intends.
The tune "Crucified Me" offers initial promise, but in the end turns out to have no real significance; it's a bitter, profanity-laced tune about being rejected by love.
Where Geldof falls short on lyrics, his music (patterned a lot after that of Van Morrison) nonetheless reaches new heights with lots of traditional-sounds: pennywhistles, fiddles, ukuleles and such. It's pleasant music to listen to, but doesn't have a whole lot to say.
The Waterboys caused quite a buzz a couple years ago with their sensational "Fisherman's Blues," a surprising rocker that had fans and critics alike comparing them to heavyweights like U2.
So a followup would naturally follow the same promising course, right? Wrong.
The Waterboys are back with "Room to Roam" (Ensign/Chrysalis) - an album that exudes a love of traditional Irish music. And the results are nothing short of spectacular - at least from an Irish music point of view.
With plenty of traditional Irish instruments as a backdrop, "Room to Roam" explores both original and traditional Irish music - all delivered in the folksy, upbeat vocals of lead Waterboy Mike Scott (a Scotsman living in Dublin).
Scott exhibits a Bob Dylanesque lyrical style throughout, though with some inconsistency. On "Islandman" he sings "Scotland is my dreaming head/Ireland is my heart," and on "A Life of Sundays" he suggests you simply look around yourself and "sharpen your sense of wonder."
The best of the album's traditional tunes is "Raggle Taggle Gypsy."