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Music Review: Thin Lizzy – Thin Lizzy, Shades of a Blue Orphanage, Vagabonds of the Western World

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“To you and me, he’s a renegade…”

Truer words were never spoken about the author of that song, Phil Lynott (1949-1986). Except maybe in “The Rocker.” Underneath Eric Bell’s searing guitar, Lynott spells it out: “Hey little girl, keep your hands off me, I’m a rocker, I’m a rocker, I’m a roller too…baby.”

The fact is, Phil Lynott never fit in anywhere else besides being a rocker and a renegade. Set aside for the moment that he was a brilliant bassist, vocalist and songwriter. Just look at the dude. As a towering “mixed-race” Irishman he stood out in every crowd. Lynott decided to embrace his differences, and became “The Rocker.”

Thin Lizzy’s most famous song “The Boys Are Back In Town” is a classic-rock staple. For many, this is where the band begins and ends. But there is so much more to the group, and Lynott in particular, than that one (admittedly great) tune. Thin Lizzy’s first three LPs have just been reissued in deluxe, bonus-track-filled CDs. They are a wonderful way to get to know this band.

Their first, simply titled Thin Lizzy (1971) is unquestionably of the era. The ringing guitar of Eric Bell opens the record on “The Friendly Ranger At Clontarf Castle.” Lynott’s closer, “Saga Of The Ageing Orphan,” just hurts to listen to today. The reissue adds a few bonuses basically later remixed tracks.

On Shades Of A Blue Orphanage (1972), Lynott started to really address his heritage. The title alone not only speaks to his own life, but also to the fact that Thin Lizzy had now become the vessel for the vision of Lynott himself.

Although it was only released as a single initially, “Whisky In The Jar” provided Thin Lizzy with their first hit. The song was not even included on the LP. It appears in the reissue in two versions as the single, and a great “John Peel BBC 1 Session.” For a group who hated the very idea of doing this traditional Irish song, their version is magnificent.

Shades Of A Blue Orphanage is magnificent in its own right. How can you deny an album that opens up with a Brian Downey drum solo? If “The Rise And Dear Demise Of The Funky Nomadic Tribes” brings to mind the worst excesses of prog, I cannot disagree. There is undeniable fun available on this album though. “Buffalo Gals,” and the amazing acoustic-guitar opening of “Brought Down,” come immediately to mind. But Lynott as a poet, artist, visionary, and sadly-missed icon emerges on the final, title-track.

I do not know how to put the various states of emotion “Shades Of A Blue Orphanage” puts me through. All I want to get across is that this is truly the great “lost” Thin Lizzy piece.

Lynott came to grips with who and what he was on Vagabonds Of The Western World (1973). “The Rocker” might be the most famous cut; but the record opens up with “Mother Nature Said,” a fantastic heavy-duty rock track with a bit of an ecological bent.

Track two is titled “The Hero And The Madman.” Can you guess where Lynott puts himself? My best guess is that he is both. This is one of the Thin Lizzy tracks that those of us who call ourselves fans continue to argue about. Thin Lizzy were still a couple of years away from their pinnacle of commercial success, but as a vehicle for the vision of Phil Lynott, the dye was cast with Vagabonds.

Uni understand the importance of this record. In fact, I was shocked at how much attention they lavished upon it. The first disc contains the original eight songs of the LP. Add to that ten bonus tracks. Then we get a second disc of soundboard “Live At The BBC” material from the era. Plus a wonderful, and informative booklet.

This is where the legend of Phil Lynott begins.

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