Album of the Week, November 11: The Acoustic Motorbike by Luka Bloom

Kevin Barry Moore was born in County Kildare, Ireland in 1955. His older brother, Christy, became one of the best known Irish musicians, founding the folk band Planxty and maintaining a powerful presence over decades. Barry, as he was known, began performing with his brother at the age of 14. He recorded three albums in Ireland and the Netherlands; he also developed tendonitis, relying on a plectrum to play the guitar and creating a distinctive picking style. In 1987, he moved to the United States and started his career fresh. He adopted the name Luka Bloom — Luka from Suzanne Vega’s song of the same name and Bloom from James Joyce’s character — and began performing in the Northeast. He landed a contract with reprise records and recorded four lovely albums before a corporate shakeup cost him his contract. He’s maintained a steady career, performing and occasionally recording, mixing his original songs with delightfully eccentric covers and the occasional traditional tune.

Title The Acoustic Motorbike
Act Luka Bloom
Label reprise Release Date 1/21/1992
Producer John Wood
U.S. Chart  n/c U.K. Chart  n/c
Tracks
  1. Mary Watches Everything
  2. You
  3. I Believe In You
  4. I Need Love
  5. Exploring the Blue
  6. This Is Your Country
  7. The Acoustic Motorbike
  8. Can’t Help Falling In Love
  9. Bones
  10. Bridge of Sorrow
  11. Listen to the Hoofbeat
  12. Be Well

The third album recorded by Luka Bloom is The Acoustic Motorbike, his most consistent and powerful disc. It kicks off with the sad tale of Mary, a woman who hides in her home, trying to avoid the chaos of the world outside and the pain it has wrought on her life. It’s one of his finest songs, and while carrying a distinctively Irish tone is painfully universal.

The next three tracks are love songs of one sort or another. You is a simple set of sketches as befits the title, lovely and haunting. I Believe in You is one of the strongest songs, a testament of love and strength.

The fourth track is one of his most famous, a cover of LL Cool J’s I Need Love. A rap cover by an Irish folk singer sounds odd on its surface, but Bloom makes it work beautifully. His singing style is half spoken or chanted most of the time, adapting well to a rap. The joyous search of the lyrics is a perfect fit for Bloom’s themes and the cover is one of the best “who would have guessed” moments of the 90s. Bloom is famous for his interesting choices, including Prince’s Kiss, ABBA’s Dancing Queen, and many others. Unfortunately, the other cover on this album, Elvis Presley’s Can’t Help Falling In Love, is the disc’s sole misstep. Too earnest by half, it adds nothing to the original and becomes a jarring stopping point on an otherwise wonderful journey.

The three songs between the covers are a wonderful journey. Mixing natural imagery, love of homeland, and aching love song lyrics, Bloom crafts a lovely, compelling tone. The Acoustic Motorbike, clever title and all, is a tribute to bicycling, Ireland, and personal power all in one. After the Presley derailment, the next trio of songs are another wonderful set. They hint of tradition filtered through sad modernity and are a capable trio of modern folk tunes.

The album ends with the lovely benediction Be Well. It’s a fitting conclusion to an album of journeys of the heart, mind, and soul. Luka Bloom has recorded a dozen albums with many great songs, but The Acoustic Motorbike is the finest, playing to all his strengths and welcoming the listener back with to each listen with its quiet power.

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About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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