Luka Bloom: Amsterdam

[7 July 2003]

By Will Harris

His name is Luka. And he's really got to be tired of hearing his name in the same breath as the Suzanne Vega song . . .

Luka Bloom comes by his musical ability honestly . . . but, honestly, his name’s not really Luka Bloom. He might’ve been using that moniker for about 15 years or so, ever since he relocated from Ireland to Washington, DC, in the late ‘80s, but when our man Luka’s back in Dublin, he’s probably still known as Barry Moore and, as often as not, referred to as Christy Moore’s brother.

Still, it’d be pretty easy to argue that, though Christy might be the more famous of the Moore brothers in their homeland, it’s Barry . . . oh, fine, let’s just go back to calling him by his more recognized sobriquet . . . it’s Luka who’s forged more of a name for himself in the States.

He’s not got household name status or anything, but, when he released his 1990 album, Riverside, on Reprise Records, the track “Delirious” scored a fair amount of airplay; the follow-up album, The Acoustic Motorbike, also had a little bit of luck with “Mary Watches Everything”. Still, it was another track from the latter disc that caused far more ears to perk up: his absolutely incredible cover of “I Need Love”, which introduced that particular rap classic to an audience who almost certainly never would’ve checked out an L.L. Cool J album.

Unfortunately, Bloom doesn’t include “I Need Love” on his new live album, Amsterdam, but he does open things up with another track from The Acoustic Motorbike: “Exploring the Blue”.

Armed solely with an acoustic guitar, Amsterdam casually meanders through Bloom’s back catalog, revisiting each of his three Reprise albums (including the as-yet-unmentioned third disc, Turf) for at least a song or two, as well as touching on more recent indie releases such as Salty Heaven and Between the Mountain and the Moon. It’s not exactly a greatest-hits set list (though “Delirious” is the next-to-last track performed, “Mary Watches Everything” is conspicuously absent), but fans familiar with his entire discography will no doubt be pleased as punch to see tracks like “Gone to Pablo” (from Riverside), “You” (The Acoustic Motorbike), and “Sunny Sailor Boy” (Turf) amongst the selections.

One of Bloom’s most consistent musical traits is his ability to reinterpret other people’s material in an arrangement more compatible to his own sound, such as with the aforementioned L.L. Cool J song. Unlike many artists, though, the covers don’t sound like some desperate attempt at a hit; they sit side by side with Bloom’s originals, and, in many cases, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference in the songs’ composers. A few years back, he even released an entire album’s worth of these reinterpretations, entitled Keeper of the Flame, where the selections ranged from ABBA to the Cure. On Amsterdam, he performs a few of those tracks: Bob Marley’s “Natural Mystic” and Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love”.

Luka Bloom’s vocal delivery can go from unabashedly romantic to painfully intense at the drop of a hat (between “You” and “Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself”), the music often dark and somber at one moment, then uplifting the next. Amsterdam shows both these sides.

It may not be a perfect summation of Bloom’s musical career, but, as a glimpse into the world of the man’s live performances, Amsterdam is as fine a snapshot as one could hope for.

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