Artist: Bap Kennedy
Album: Reckless Heart
Label: Last Chance
Release Date: 01/27/2017
If there is a silver lining to an early death, it often accrues to musicians more readily than to most others. Their music lives on and posthumous releases, like this one, can garner plenty of attention and bring listeners to the artist’s catalog.
Bap Kennedy, who lost his battle with cancer at the age of 53, evolved from being a strong frontman for the Irish band, Energy Orchard, to a brilliant singer/songwriter after being encouraged by Steve Earle and others, in the course of nine albums (including this one). Along the way, he collaborated with Van Morrison and Mark Knopfler but found his own singular voice (and a nickname of sorts) with 1999’s Hillbilly Shakespeare. Kennedy knew his end was near and that comes through in tracks like “The Universe & Me” and “It’s Not Me It’s You.”
This is a deftly crafted record, filled with a full range of emotions and memorably melodic, mostly romantic songs. It’s a varied American roots album from a Belfast-born Irish artist who adored Hank Williams, Elvis and Bob Dylan. There are strains of those styles and even a couple of Tex-Mex grooves here. Kennedy’s voice is strong and carries unbelievable enthusiasm. When Kennedy started recording, he didn’t know either but became aware of it before he was finished. If you weren’t aware of it, you would likely not even guess.
With his caring wife, Brenda, on bass and a cast of skilled supporters, many of these songs will get your toes tapping. Then, you’ll listen again and realize that Kennedy was an extraordinary wordsmith too. The opening, “Nothing Can Stand in the Way of Love” shuffles, the piano-driven “Good as Gold” swings, “Help Me Roll it” rocks, and both “Henry Antrim” and “Por Favor” take us to the Southwest. “Henry Antrim” (the real name of Billy the Kid) is about a troubled young man in 1880 in an American border town who knows his “days are numbered,” and talks to a beautiful woman about how he’d like to be remembered. “Por Favor” takes a faster tempo and sets the stage for his country nod to Brenda, “Honky Tonk Baby.” If you need just two songs, however, be sure to catch the self-conscious lover’s statements: “I Should Have Said” and the title track.
Like the best music, this is organic, heart-felt, and carefully done. It’s a fitting close to his 15-plus years of recording. Live on in your music Bap Kennedy. We will miss you, but will visit your music often.