Black 47 were an important part of my youth. Like many, I first heard of the band in the early ’90s with their radio hit “Funky Ceili”, which earned me a blank stare many times, when someone would ask me what I was liking musically at that moment. I caught the first of many Black 47 shows in early 1992 and discovered the great live show that many New Yorkers had known for years via their fiery sets at Paddy Reilly’s. I haven’t caught the band live in NYC, but from the shows I have seen over the years, it is clear that Black 47 brings the same truckload of vein-popping energy with them in every set that they play.
They have been called the premier Irish-American rock group, and their career has now been nicely collected in the new retrospective release Bittersweet Sixteen, which collects 16 of the finest cuts the band has recorded over the years starting in early 1990 and ending present day with two new cuts. Bittersweet Sixteen is a unique collection that presents a number of oddities, including the original mix of “Funky Ceili”, and a cover version of “For What It’s Worth”. As a fan of both Vin Scelsa’s Idiot’s Delight and Black 47, I was very stoked to see that this collection also included six tracks from a classic Idiot’s Delight live studio recording. Those live cuts are a vibrant alternate look at material from the band’s out-of-print major label work.
Despite the many different sources used for this compilation, quality is consistent throughout the album, and if you’ve managed to miss Black 47 up to this point, Bittersweet Sixteen is a good starting point to educate yourself on all things Black 47. A particular highlight that leaps right off the disc is frontman Larry Kirwan dueting with New York Doll David Johansen on “Staten Island Baby” from the band’s stellar 2004 release New York Town. The cuts that are included from the Idiot’s Delight appearance have been remastered and sound great.
Bittersweet Sixteen is in the rare category of compilations that truly have something for everyone. It works well for the casual fan who wants to learn more about Black 47, and at the same time, is loaded with all sorts of cool stuff for the Black 47 diehard like me who thought he had everything. Longtime fans will enjoy “Home Of The Brave” and “Patriot Game”, unreleased material from their first recording session. The two new cuts that are included on Bittersweet Sixteen, “Southside Chicago Waltz”, and “Joe Hill’s Last Will” are a promising look at what we can look forward to as Black 47 continue onward making a loud noise for those that need to hear it.
Bittersweet Sixteen is a good start, but not necessarily the last word on everything that you need to hear from Black 47. If you’re interested by what you hear on Bittersweet Sixteen, you would do well to hunt down albums from the rest of the Black 47 catalog, particularly the early albums, Fire Of Freedom, and Home Of The Brave.