A long-standing folk-rocker with a knack for alluring melodies and straight-faced romantic lyricism, Irish singer/songwriter Luka Bloom has had a long career as a musician — both under his current stage name and his birth name Barry Moore — that goes all the way back to the late seventies.
Despite this durable career, the man isn't much known in the U.S., which isn't surprising considering how much scant regard basic songwriting receives these days. But for those lovers of hard-strummed "electro-acoustic" music and honest singing, who perhaps came to Bloom with his early nineties releases and lost track of him after he began following more ambient turns, the new Eleven Songs (Bar/None Records) will be viewed as a happy return to folk-rock form.
Shifting from infectious country-folk shakers like "I'm on Your Side" and "Eastbound Train" through Latin-tinged celebrations of the beauty of the world ("I Love the World I'm In") and gospel admonitions to free your mind, the soothing voiced Bloom deftly conveys a mood of warmth tinged with melancholy, without readily succumbing to the boy/man posturing of so many male singers.
This is experienced music sung by a guy who isn't here to impress you with all the roads he's traveled, but mainly wants to tell you about the things he's seen. "There is a time we must sit with ourselves," he explains over a deftly played Spanish guitar in the album's opener. "Let the breeze in, let the winds blow."
The album has only one serious misstep: the hectoring "Fire," which uses an admittedly addictive chorus to rant against 21st century techno alienation. Sorry, Luka, but I'm writing this review for the Internet. Besides, Billy Joel ruined the use of fire imagery in the service of protest songs twenty years ago.
The rest of Eleven Songs is hooky and welcoming: great music for those times you wake up in the middle of the night feeling that unexplained sense of dread — and want to listen to something that won't wake your significant other back in the bedroom. Listening to "I Hear Her, Like Lorelei," I couldn't help thinking of John Cale in one of his more subdued moments.
But disc finale "Don't Be Afraid of the Light that Shines Within You" is the one you'll keep running through your head after you crawl back into bed. An achingly beautiful inspirational track, it implores its listeners to "warm our hearts and faces in the heat of the burning flame" (okay, I'll accept that fire image) over backup by Dublin's Gardiner Street Gospel Choir. In these grim times, we need all the buck-up music we can get . . .