In the mostly homogenous ceili-rock pantheon -- groups melding punk and traditional Irish sounds -- Larry Kirwan's NYC-based Black 47 can be a polarizing band. And not just because the group's fiery politics don't stop at the Derry border. It's Kirwan himself who can split the pub: His Irish Springsteen-esque songs, and the warbling tenor in which he sings them, can be rousing or annoying, intense workouts or dated pop naivete, literarily sentimental or tripe, depending on your predisposition.
Elvis Murphy will no doubt intensify those feelings. "Bells of Hell," Kirwan's paeon to Malachy McCourt's infamous Manhattan bar, and "The Day They Set Jim Larkin Free" could be the band's best efforts to date. But then there's the absurd funky-ceili protest of "Downtown Baghdad Blues," artistically out of place on an album that's otherwise an accompaniment to Kirwan's newly published memoir.
The best Black 47 is punchy and soulful. But there's a new twist here -- the disc-closing "Kilroy Was Here" and "Life's Like That, Isn't It" are fine approximations of Van Morrison's rambling, pastoral songs. Self-indulgent for sure, but "Kilroy," at least, is a gorgeous and mature turn for a band best known for roof-raising.