Larry Kirwan's Celtic Invasion - Various Artists
Larry Kirwan, the prolific songsmith of Black 47, playwright, novelist and since 2005, host of Celtic Crush on SiriusXM, has released the ‘Celtic Invasion’ compilation just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. While there is no grand agenda behind the tunes that were selected (Kirwan’s collection is simply a bunch of Celtic rockers that have resonated with him and his listeners), it allows one to come to some conclusions about this niche genre. For instance, while the Celtic invasion may be long in the tooth, it by no means has lost its bite. Arena rockers like The Waterboys and Runrig remind us of what may have been Celtic Rock’s glory years but their contemporaries have learned the rudiments well. The set opens with Barleyjuice and the clever penmanship of Kyf Brewer documenting the phenomenon of the part-time pub potato in the ‘Weekend Irish’. The Wexford-born Kirwan can be forgiven for leaning heavy on the Irish fare, contributing a jaunty tale of hitting the road with his ‘Uncle Jim’ to meet the Reverend Ian Paisley and convert him to Catholicism. Scots can take solace in representing Celtic Invasion’s only Celtronica contribution. The Isle of Skye’s Peatbog Faeries trance up the mix with ‘Wacko King Hako’. Notably, their newer material, such as 2011’s ‘Dust’ is more horn-driven and funkier than the heavily programmed sounds of their earlier efforts like ‘Welcome To Dunn Vegas’ from which Wacko King Hako was taken. It’s also surprising that the greatest and most widely known Celtronic band, The AfroCelt Sound System did not find a place among the most requested. But, any package of only a dozen tracks is sure to miss more than it includes. The whole Irish punk movement which, in a way, Kirwan and Black 47 helped pioneer is conspicuous in its absence as well. No Murphs, Mollys or Mahones made the cut. Only Houston’s Blaggards run the ragged edge with a balls-to-the-wall take on ‘Irish Rover’. The seminal Hothouse Flowers round out the set with Si Do Mhamo I (The Wealthy Widow in Irish Gaelic). Celtic Rock seems to be progressing along conventional music trends; more recent selections are still spirited but with less guitar wankage and more acoustic roots, in keeping with today’s fascination with singer/songwriters. I would have pegged pub anthem favorites, Gaelic Storm to strike a chord with Celtic Crush listeners, but they too are passed by in this collection. Having programmed and produced a contemporary Celtic music radio program for over 10 years now (Celt In A Twist with Patricia Fraser), Celtic Invasion provides a wonderful barometric measure of the types of tunes that truly excite other Celtic music fans. In my experience they’re mostly adventurous and open to it all, from Celtic Trad, Celtic Rock and Celtpunk to Celtronica and Celtic Jazz; whatever you throw at them. They’ll come for the lyrical hooks and fine musicianship and stay for the tragedy and pathos which have always lurked behind mystic Celtic folklore. It’s nice to know the Celtic Invasion, sometimes savage; sometimes introspective continues to open new fronts through open ears.