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Burning Times – sonically fashioned in his usual magisterial style by Declan Sinnott – addresses concrete sprawling issues in songs like Natalie Merchant’s ‘Motherland’ and Rennie and Brett Sparks ‘Peace In The Valley Once Again’.
Jackie Hayden, 10 Oct 2005
During Martin Scorcese’s recent No Direction Home documentary, Liam Clancy pinned down Bob Dylan’s appeal to perfection by placing him in the context of the old Irish mythological figures known as ‘shape changers’. “He changed voices, he changed images and it wasn’t necessary for him to be a definitive person,” he said. “He was a receiver, he was possessed and he articulated what the rest of us wanted to say but couldn’t say.”
In some regards at least, Clancy might have been talking about Christy Moore. The quote also seems particularly appropriate in relation to Christy because it was Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers who first made Moore himself realise that you have to sing out – as in project your voice – if you want to be heard by the masses.
All of which becomes even more applicable in relation to Christy’s new album Burning Times, which includes a searing version of Dylan’s 'The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll' and is, for the most part, the kind of multi-faceted, finger-pointing political polemic so many people in that Dylan documentary – most especially Joan Baez – still wish “Zimmie” hadn’t ceased to make circa 1965, a time when his voice, the argument runs, was most desperately needed by those who couldn’t quite articulate to the same degree or with such force as Dylan, what needed to be said.
Bob Dylan got sick of his role as a spokesman. Christy never has. And never was that more apparent than during the recent Save Our Baths rally at Blackrock when Moore took improvisational flight on a magnificently impassioned version of ‘Lisdoonvarna’, firing out lines like, “We don’t need more flats for fecking millionaires” that cut right to the soul of the crowd, and the cause that had brought us all together that day – namely, the attempt to stop building on the site of the old Dun Laoghaire baths the first in a series of high-rise concrete development complexes right now being planned by those self same millionaires, for similar locations all over Ireland.
Either way, Burning Times – sonically fashioned in his usual magisterial style by Declan Sinnott – addresses similar concrete sprawling issues in songs like Natalie Merchant’s ‘Motherland’ and Rennie and Brett Sparks ‘Peace In The Valley Once Again’. The latter two poetically precise writers also provide ‘Butterfly (So Much Wine)’, a moving and mercilessly truthful evocation of the ill-effects of alcoholism. Morrissey’s savagely ironic ‘America I Love You’ and Joni Mitchell’s ‘The Magdalene Laundries’ likewise make us face the kind of too-often glossed over realities we might otherwise miss.
Then again this CD is also blessed with a cycle of softer, more reflective meditations. Spillane/Wolf/Lynch’s ‘Magic Nights In The Lobby Bar’ is one, evoking memories of Cork’s great lost venue, and to that we can add Richard Thompson’s ‘Beeswing’, Wally Page’s ‘Mercy’ and Phil Och’s ‘Changes’. And I haven’t even mentioned, until now, the mystical title track, penned by Charlie Murphy.
So are there no songs written by Christy himself? Sadly not on this occasion. But somehow that doesn’t matter. Another artist we can compare Moore to is Billie Holiday. She had that uncanny ability to absorb someone else’s song so deeply inside her own psyche that, when it re-emerged, it sounded as if she had actually written it. That’s a rare gift and Christy Moore has it too.
Long may he sing out. In every sense.