Review: Bap Kennedy – The Sailor’s Revenge (Proper American, 2012)
Americana long ago ceased to be an American phenomenon. The Irish singer-songwriter Bap Kennedy was tuned into American country music long before he discovered some of its roots in his own culture. Though his music traditional Celtic flutes, pipes and whistles, they’re easily merged into the music of an artist whose debut was produced by Steve Earle and whose album, Lonely Street, memorialized the influences of Hank Williams and Elvis Presley. His latest outing was produced by Mark Knopfler, and he’s supported by musicians drawn from both Ireland and America, including the wonderful fiddler John McCusker and legendary guitarist Jerry Douglas. Knopfler’s guitar is also a strong presence as mood setting background for the vocals and other instruments, rather than an instrumental voice.
Douglas provides texture and a twangy solo on “Please Return to Jesus,” with Kennedy singing the memorably phrased “But to be on the safe side / When I’ve had my final day / I have left instructions / To help me on my way / Just above my heart / There’s a small tattoo / Please return to Jesus / … thank you.” It’s the hesitation before “thank you” that really sticks the chorus. The eleven original songs range from the Texas songwriting tradition of “The Right Stuff,” to the blue collar lament “Working Man” and Paul Simon-styled title track. The slip-note “Maybe I Will” is drawn from the country school Nick Lowe’s attended the past several years, but Kennedy’s weariness is more majestic than wrecked, as though he’s exhaling a life’s toil, thinking about something better and wearily setting his shoulder back to the grindstone. Wonderful stuff.