“Michael Black” (Compass)
To start with, Michael Black’s eponymous first CD is produced by the supremely gifted Celtic guitarist John Doyle. Doyle also plays on several tracks.
Add to Doyle, this supporting cast: Seamus Egan of Solas, Philadelphia bassist and veteran setman Chico Huff, fiddle master Liz Carroll, Kentucky Celtic fiddler Liz Knowles, Solas alum and accordion virtuoso John Williams, and Appalachian fiddler (think “Cold Mountain”) Dirk Powell. Oh, yes, and throw in a few members of the unnaturally gifted Black family, with backing vocals by Mary, Frances, Shay and Martin. Additional backing vocals are by Eoghan Scott, and Danny and Roisin O’Reilly.
So how is the album? Ummmm, OK, I guess … you know, if you like genius and an overabundance of talent and things of that sort.
At the center of it all, of course, is Michael Black. During a week in which we noted the passing of Tom Makem, I found myself listening to this CD and thinking that the tradition truly lives on in the form of so many younger traditional artists—but it is clearly alive and well on Black’s work on this album.
Black’s vocal style compares favorably to that of Makem and the Clancys. (There are times, too, when he sounds vaguely like Harry Chapin.) In any event, Black’s story-songs, a couple with anti-war undercurrents— “The Deserter,” and “When the Boys Are on Parade”—would have fit right in at the old Newport Folk Festival.
It’s not all serious, though. Take, for example, the loopy “My Father Loves Nikita Kruschev,” a tune performed by Makem himself on an old Polydor album, “In the Dark Green Woods.” “Billy O’Shea” is a great sing-along song—and I guarantee that you will sing along to this one in the car.
“Michael Black” might be the best ‘60s Irish folk album released in the early part of the 21st century. Tommy Makem can rest easy. The tradition is in able hands.