Social Distancing Spins, Day 5

By Joel Francis

In observance of St. Patrick’s Day, here are some of my finest albums with Irish ties.

The Pogues – If I Should Fall From Grace with God (1988) The only thing wrong with this album is that the title song is too short. The extended 12-inch version on the Pogues box set solves this problem. Mentioning the highlights is like reading the track listing, but I’ll narrow it down to the absolute best. “Fairytale of New York” is my absolute favorite Christmas song and is just as powerful in August as it is in December. Hearing Kirsty MacColl and Shane MacGowan trade stanzas in the final verse always crushes me. This song’s all-time status was cemented in my soul when Bill Murray slurred his way through it with David Johansen and Jenny Lewis in his Christmas special.

There may be no finer tribute to the hope and heartbreak of the 19th century immigrants who traveled to the United States to start a new life than “Thousands are Sailing.” And that’s just side one. We’d better move on or I’ll be here all day.

Stiff Little Fingers – Greatest Hits Live in London (2017) The glory days of this Belfast-born punk band were long over when this live set came out. Although most of the material here pulls from the groups mighty four-album run in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s the fire on this inflammable material has dimmed. I really bought this album because it was marked down on a Black Friday sale and signed by the current musicians. As it’s the only SLF I currently own, it will be what I spin when I need to hear “Tin Soldiers” or “Suspect Device.” Oh, one more thing: “Alternative Ulster” makes a great alarm song on your phone. It’s hard not to want to kick the day’s butt after hearing that first thing.

Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak (1976) Yeah, this is the album with “The Boys are Back in Town,” the only song that classic rock radio deigns to circulate, but this is a solid slab of rock from start to finish. “Jailbreak” blows out the speakers like a lost AC/DC song. “Cowboy Song” starts off like a campfire ballad before Phil Lynott’s storytelling takes over and the guitars plug in. Can we talk about Lynott’s lyrics for a moment? “Emerald” reads like a preview to a great lost epic poem. The story in “Romeo and the Lonely Girl” is just as majestic as Mark Knopfler’s masterpiece “Romeo and Juliet.” All with those dual guitars that can sting like a scorpion out of nowhere. Thin Lizzy gets nowhere near the respect they deserve.

The Chieftains – 3 (1971)

Van Morrison and the Chieftains – Irish Heartbeat (1988) If you blindfolded me and played me any one of the Chieftains first half-dozen albums, I’m fairly confident I couldn’t tell them apart. The traditional Irish troupe expanded their sound when they started adding guest artists and gimmicks in the ‘90s. (The Chieftains play movie themes! The Chieftains go to Nashville!) There are many moments to savor on those albums, but I like the unvarnished simplicity of the jigs and reels on their initial run.

Ironically, it was the success of Irish Heartbeat that paved the way for these cross-genre exercises. I don’t begrudge the Chieftains for trying to reach a broader audience but to my ears they’ve never found a better partner than fellow Irishman Van Morrison. For proof, take a look at the group’s star-studded release Long Black Veil from 1995. Everyone from Sting to the Stones shows up, but Morrison steals the album with his own “Have I Told You Lately.” Irish Heartbeat brings out a playful side of Morrison rarely heard, particularly on “I’ll Tell Me Ma” and “Marie’s Wedding.” Hoist a pint and turn it up.

Dropkick Murphys – The Meanest of Times (2007) Irish by way of Boston, the Dropkick Murphys combine the traditional feel of the Chieftains with Thin Lizzy’s hard rock and Stiff Little Finger’s punk attitude. When I played this album in the morning my son announced that he didn’t like it and left the room. That evening he was captivated by the Murphys’ live performance online. I tried to tell him they were the same band from earlier, but he didn’t believe me. I guess some things need to be seen to be believed. (By the way, streaming this concert was a brilliant idea and really seems to be taking off while all of us are stuck at home. According to the counter in the corner, 128,000 people were watching live. That’s a far bigger crowd than they ever could have hoped to reach by playing a St. Patrick’s Day show in Beantown.)

Flogging Molly – Within a Mile of Home (2004) It’s hard to imagine a Dropkick Murphys fan not liking Flogging Molly as well. Molly are slightly less hardcore than the Murphys on record but both acts generate a considerable mosh pit in concert. I found Within a Mile of Home at a ridiculously cheap price on CD shortly after its release. Seeing Lucinda Williams was featured on one track, I picked it up. A couple years later, I found Whiskey on a Sunday, the follow-up EP/DVD under the same circumstances. Watching those live performances convinced me I absolutely had to see this band in concert. While Within a Mile from Home is the only Molly vinyl I own, I’ve seen them a handful of times in person and never been disappointed.

U2 – Boy (1980) If it is possible to think about this divisive Irish quartet without the hype, bombasity and preening it has accumulated over the years, then Boy is it. With the exception of opening track “I Will Follow,” the rest of the album has been excluded from setlists and compilations (although some songs have gradually crept back onstage). The menacing “An Cat Dubh” almost sounds like an anthemic early Cure outtake (with glockenspiel!) that slides into The Edge’s wonderful guitar textures of “Into the Heart.” (Along with Bono’s earnest vocals. U2 were never not-earnest.) There aren’t many hints of The Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby here, yet all the essential elements of those albums are present. Sometimes spending time with the boy is more revelatory than hanging out with the man.

A Shooting Star finds home with the Young Dubliners

(Above: “Nobody’s getting any money for this one.” The Young Dubliners bring a little bit of Ireland to the CBS Early Show in 2007.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

The first thing Chas Waltz does when he returns to Kansas City is check in with friends and family then head straight over to Gates BBQ for a slab of ribs. Waltz has been living in Los Angeles for nearly 20 years, but hasn’t forgotten the great tastes of his hometown.

As the violin player in Shooting Star, Waltz was part of one of the first major rock bands emerge of Kansas City. From 1977 to 1987, Shooting Star rubbed elbows with ZZ Top, Cheap Trick, REO Speedwagon, Jefferson Starship, Kansas and Journey.  They helped put the local music scene on the radar of the powerful coastal labels.

“Whenever people learned we were from Kansas City they always kind of perked up, especially people on the coasts,” Waltz said. “People knew our town from the legendary reggae group the Blue Riddim Band, who were big at the time, but we were the first rock band. It made people take notice.”

After the demise of Shooting Star in the late ‘80s, Waltz relocated to Los Angeles. His violin skills inadvertently put him at the heart of the burgeoning Irish rock scene. The success of U2 and the Pogues had brought a new generation of Irish songwriters to America.

“Shortly after I moved to Los Angeles I hooked up with a friend of mine who was a producer out there, but grew up in Springfield, Mo.,” Waltz said. “He introduced me to that world, and particularly to Dave King, who would later form the group Flogging Molly. I joined his band, which got me into the whole scene. Through that I met the Dubliners.”

Above: The Young Dubliners play tonight at Davy's Uptown Rambler's Club. Show starts at 8 and tickets are $12. Visit http://www.daveysuptown.com/ for more information.

The Dubliners were informal group centered around Dublin natives Keith Roberts and Paul O’Toole who started tweaking and recording their favorite songs from back home. When Roberts and O’Toole lost their fiddle player In the mid-‘90s, they asked Waltz to join their band, now known as the Young Dubliners.

“I didn’t know any of this music when I started out. I was a rock and roll guy,” Waltz said. “But through the festivals we’ve been booked to play, I’ve gotten to learn from a lot of the best fiddle players from Scotland and Ireland.”

Waltz was present for the band’s first full-length album, 1995’s “Reach,” but was gone by the time the second record materialized.

“I was in the band for three years, left to front another band and was back in 2001,” Waltz said. “The timing was right. The band I was in wasn’t working out. Our bass player was also from Kansas City, and he wanted to go back and start a family. That was Norm Dahlor, who now plays with the Elders.”

When Waltz returned, the Dubliners’ lineup finally stabilized. O’Toole had left around the same time as Waltz, but the current crop of players has stayed together, more or less, until today.

“Touring is hard work and not everyone is cut out for it,” Young Dubliners founder Keith Roberts said. “It took a while to find the right mix of people, but the band we have today is the best group I’ve worked with.”

The past 10 years have taken the quintet around the world several times, performing at both Irish and rock festivals and opening for Jethro Tull and Jonny Lang. In 2006, Roberts hastily assembled the band to record a quick follow-up to their biggest record to date, “Real World.” The resulting album, “With All Due Respect,” a baker’s dozen of their favorite Irish songs, has surpassed everything else in their catalog.

“We did that in 17 days,” Roberts said. “The beauty of that album is that we didn’t have much time to over (mess) with it. It was like in our bar band days.

“No matter where we play, we’ll sell as many copies of that album as the new one,” Roberts continued. “It’s timeless. We might do it again.”

It might be a while before that happens, though. The band is feeling the itch to write some more original songs to complement “Saints and Sinners,” the all-new album that followed “Respect.”

“I’m looking forward to getting some new material going,” Waltz said. “I’m writing all the time and I have a lot of stuff wanting to be finished. I can’t wait to hear what the guys will do with it.”

Read more:

Review: Flogging Molly

Kansas City Rocks Out

Go green with Stiff Little Fingers

Top 10 Concerts of 2009


(Above: Modest Mouse’s concert at the Uptown Theater in March deserves an honorable mention.)

By Joel Francis

Stevie Wonder, Starlight Theater, June 27

One day after the shocking death of Michael Jackson, Motown legend Stevie Wonder took the stage before a packed Starlight Theater to both grieve and celebrate his old friend. Wonder’s songbook and the scarcity of his performances – he last played Kansas City in 1986 – already guaranteed a special evening. The timing made it historic. Keep reading….

Bela Fleck, Uptown Theater, April 2

Banjo legend Bela Fleck ditched his band the Flecktones for a half dozen African musicians he encountered on his musical adventure across the continent. The three-hour showcase not only exposed the audience to artists they likely wouldn’t have otherwise been able to experience, but brought the performers to the nooks and crannies of America. Keep reading ….

Sonny Rollins, Walton Arts Center (Fayetteville, Ark.), April 16

Saxophone legend Sonny Rollins marked his first performance in the state of Arkansas by reminiscing about radio host Bob Burns, aka the Arkansas Traveler and crowing about his idol, native son Louis Jordan. In between stories, Rollins and his four-piece band made transcendence standard with extended performances of chestnuts like “In A Sentimental Mood” and newer material. Keep reading ….

Leonard Cohen, Midland Theater, Nov. 9

Leonard Cohen knew that most of his biggest fans had never seen him in concert and that this tour would be their only chance to experience him in person. Accordingly, Cohen, 75, generously packed his three-hour concert with all his big numbers – “Hallelujah,” “Famous Blue Raincoat,” “Chelsea Hotel No. 2,” “Everybody Knows,” and about two dozen more – some album cuts and one new song.

Helping Cohen through this immaculate musical buffet was an impeccable six-piece band. Javier Mas’ performance on bandurria and 12-string acoustic guitar frequently stole the spotlight. His playing added new shades and textures to the songs and his solos were always breathtaking. Reed man Dino Soldo was also impressive on clarinet, sax, harmonica and other wind instruments. Three backing vocalists, including Cohen’s longtime collaborator Sharon Robinson, helped smooth the rough patches in Cohen’s gravely baritone.

The adoring, sold-out crowd marinated in every moment, cheering at choice lines and raining ovations on the surprisingly spry singer as he skipped and hopped joyously around the stage. Cohen may have been forced back on the road for financial reasons, but both he and his audience delighted in celebration.

Sly and Robbie, Folly Theater, June 6
Lee “Scratch” Perry, Beaumont Club, August 30

This summer was a great time to be a reggae fan in Kansas City. Jamaican visitors included two biological sons of Bob Marley, and several metaphorical ones, including Toots and the Maytals, the reconstituted Wailers and Matisyahu. Pioneers Sly and Robbie and Lee “Scratch” Perry were the season’s bookends.

Sly and Robbie, veterans of literally hundreds of reggae recordings, kicked off the unofficial summer of reggae with nearly two hours of rumbling riddims at the Folly Theater. Nearly three months later, the eccentric and prolific producer “Scratch” Perry kept a small Beaumont Club crowd waiting for hours, before finally appearing with a psychotropic set of Bob Marley numbers he produced and originals like “Roast Fish and Cornbread” and “Pum Pum.”

Keep reading:

–          Sly and Robbie
–          Lee “Scratch” Perry

Jimmy Cobb, Gem Theater, October 17

As the last living performer from Miles Davis’ landmark jazz recording, Jimmy Cobb left a crowded Gem Theater crowd feeling anything but kind of blue. The drummer and his five-piece So What Band celebrated the 50th anniversary of “Kind of Blue” by playing all of its numbers, but treating the lauded original recordings more like an outline than a blueprint. When Cobb finally unleashed a drum solo more than an hour into the set, he was rewarded with the standing ovation he deserved. Keep reading ….

Pogues, Midland Theater, October 25

It took the renowned Irish acoustic punk band nearly three decades to reach Kansas City, and the groups notorious singer Shane McGowan wasn’t going to vacate the stage quickly. Alone onstage, the dying chords of “Fiesta” still ringing out, McGowan delivered a very inebriated, off-key version of “Kansas City.” A drink in each hand and cigarette dangling from his mouth, McGowan finally shuffled off to whoops and cheers.

The rest of the Pogues, recently reunited and sober (with one exception), have learned to live with these incidents. It’s probably safe to say a good portion of the crowd showed up because of them. Both the morbidly and musically curious had plenty of cause to be glad. After his only face plant of the evening, McGowan replied with aplomb “That’s why they call me Mr. Trips.” Overall, though, he was in good enough shape to deliver great versions of “If I Should Fall From Grace With God,” “Dirty Old Town” and “Bottle of Smoke.”

Despite suffering from a muddy mix, the rest of the band held up their end of the bargain, especially accordion player James Fearnley who ran and slid around the stage like Bruce Springsteen at the Super Bowl and tin whistle-ist Spider Stacy’s percussive beating of his head with a cookie sheet during “Fiesta.” The McGowan songbook was augmented by the traditional Irish numbers “Irish Rover” and “I’ll Tell Me Ma” and late-Pogues number “Tuesday Morning.” There were a few stones left unturned – “Fairytale of New York” was missed – but more than enough good moments to justify the wait.

Alice Cooper, Ameristar Casino, August 8

Alice Cooper’s theatrics aren’t as shocking as they were 30 years ago. What is shocking is how captivating and entertaining his stage show remains. Cooper’s adventures with the noose, guillotine, iron maiden, hypodermic needle, wheelchair, guns and swords mesmerized a fist-pumping, sold-out audience who sang along to every syllable of “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and nearly every other song in the set. Keep reading ….

Raphael Saadiq, Voodoo Lounge, March 13

While not officially tied to the 50th Anniversary commemoration of Motown, Raphael Saadiq’s 75-minute concert in front of a pitifully small crowd at the Voodoo Lounge was an homage to old-school soul, complete with David Ruffin’s horned glasses, tight suits and choreographed dances. The best aspect, though, was that all the music was new and original material written by the former Tony! Toni! Tone! frontman, much of it drawn from his incredible album “The Way I See It.” Keep reading …

Keep Reading:

Top 10 Concerts of 2008