Rolling Stone - March 1990
* * * *
"I was brought up near the riverside / In a quiet Irish town / An eighteen-month-old baby /
The night they laid my Daddy down.... My home was filled with sorrow then, too much for me to tell,"
sings Luka Bloom on 'The Man Is Alive', a sharp lament gracing his soaring major-label
debut album, 'Riverside'. Swirling toward a wisdom that sees all dead fathers as living
in their children, the song echoes James Joyce's elegiac short story "The Dead" in its passionate
acceptance - and in its tight-lipped euphoria nearly too strong for words.
The Joycean note isn't casual or contrived. Bloom took his name from the long-suffering Leopold Bloom,
the hero of Joyce's Ulysses, and he's also the inheritor of a particularly Irish mix of mysticism and moonshine,
a carousing spirituality that marks musicians as distinct as Van Morrison and U2.
Bloom's first name, Luka, from Suzanne Vega's song about domestic brutality, targets the folk vanguard
(Vega, Tracy Chapman, Michelle Shocked) of which he aims to be a part. The singer and acoustic guitarist -
a brother of the Irish folksinger Christy Moore - arrived in the United States two years ago, gathered a
reputation for his electrifying live shows, sang backup on the Indigo Girls' 'Closer to Fine' and
honed his own brand of contemporary Celtic soul.
As much Leonard Cohen as Woody Guthrie, however, Bloom is a decidedly artful musician. A literary lyricist -
"Nighthawks swagger in front of me / Sirens punctuate your symphony" - he draws his material less
from the overt politics and proletarian grit of much traditional folk than from states of lovers' ecstasy and private
revelation. 'Gone to Pablo' captures his narrative gift most subtly; commemorating the love suicide
of Picasso's second wife, the song paints death sadly but elegantly, with an almost pre-Raphaelite beauty.
Backed mainly by smoky, minimal percussion and his own deft guitar, Bloom's singing is distinctive for its clarity
and conviction. Not one of folk's eccentric voices, he's a more tender deliverer; a touch of rough brogue coarsens -
and personalizes - his bell-like style. It's a voice sutied to love songs, and fittingly, the best works on Riverside
are ballads. On 'This Is for Life', a tale of lovers separated by English prison bars, Bloom outright
keens the chorus, his longing achieving a haunting, erotic strain.
There are shortcomings to Riverside. Some of the blarney humor of 'An Irishman in Chinatown' is coy;
the lyrics of 'The One' verge on both the portentous and the trite. But Bloom's failings are lapses of an
overheated ambition, and, in these days of lazy radio formula, trying too hard is a forgivable offense.
Celebrating warm flesh and spiritual fire, 'Riverside' is a dazzling entrance. Van Morrison's Astral Weeks,
Jesse Winchester's first album and Robbie Robertson's glorious ballads delimit the ground Bloom examines.
It's a brave territory - one Bloom has proven himself able and worthy to travel.
The Gavin Report - March 1990
Luka Bloom - Riverside
No, I don't know why he calls himself Luka Bloom. Maybe Barry Moore felt he
risked living in his brother's (Christy Moore) shadow. Whatever the reason,
Bloom is a fine bard in his own right, and whereas his brother comfortably
strays into the political arena, Luka sings about the politics of the human
spirit. Having seen this man play on two occasions, I can attest his power.
He can leave you laughing good-naturedly one minute and close to tears the
next, linking one emotion to next through warm, spirited tales. And sure,
the album comes out in time for St. Patrick's Day but don't let this record
get lost in the novelty of that fact. This is an excellent testament to
years of hard work - a true treasure. Notice the haunting quality in 'Gone To Pablo'
or 'The Man Is Alive' and the beauty of 'Hudson Lady'. Finally, entertain
yourself and your listeners with the magical tale of 'Over The Moon' and 'An
Irishman In Chinatown'. Love it!
Billboard - March 10, 1990
Luka Bloom - Riverside
Irish singer/songwriter Luka Bloom makes a big impression on first stateside release.
Numbers like 'Delirious' show off Bloom's acoustic-based but pop-inflected
edge as a writer, while songs such as 'An Irishman In Chinatown' reflect a
knowing humor that keeps the proceedings light. Superior album will most
likely take off from a modern rock base.
The Indianapolis Star - March 15, 1990
Luka Bloom - Riverside
It only takes about 30 seconds into 'Delirious', the first cut on this debut album, to realize that Luka Bloom
is something special. The combination of his deep voice, powerful acoustic guitar and great songwriting carries on
throughout the album, making 'Riverside' a joy to experience.
Like fellow Irishmen U2, Bloom's focus on many songs is America. Unlike U2, Bloom is a folk artist, more in the vein
of Indigo Girls or The Pogues. Such comparisons are easy, since Bloom added background vocals to the Indigo
Girls' 'Closer To Fine' and is backed by members of the Pogues on Riverside.
Other standout cuts include the dirge-like 'Dreams In America' and 'Gone To Pablo', and
the upbeat 'You Couldn't Have Come At A Better Time'. Some of the songs may be pretentious, but
since when is that a sin in rock 'n' roll. 'Riverside' may be one of the best records of the year.
Norman S. Shaw
The Austin American-Statesman - March 22, 1990
Riverside announces Bloom as major force
* * * *
Riverside - Luka Bloom
If artists like Tracy Chapman and The Indigo Girls represented the flowering of a new era for acoustic music, then this is where it
reaches (pardon the pun) full bloom.
'Riverside', Luka Bloom's debut album, is a masterful collection of fresh, creative and accessible songs. The album's
reliance on primarily acoustic instrumentation - including guitar, fiddle, mandolin, cello and flute - creates a crisp, clean sound that
leaves plenty of room for Bloom's diverse and captivating musical vision.
The real surprise here is not Bloom's talent as a musician, vocalist and songwriter, but rather how well it translates to record.
Bloom, a native of Ireland who moved to Washington D.C., two years ago, earned his record contract solely on the strength
of his live performances, without submitting a demo tape. While reviewers consistently raved about his energetic and
charismatic shows from the stage, capturing those qualities in the studio seemed a significant challenge.
But 'Riverside' isn't as much a harnessing of his talents as an expansion of them. Bloom's only previous
appearance on record - a track called
'Trains' on a compilation album issued last year by Bar/None Records - was an interesting but
borderline-novelty tune in which he demonstrated his ability to mimic a train whistle with his voice. An impressive
act, but not representative of the depth of his abilities.
That depth rushes through the floodgates on 'Riverside'. Bloom's precise, rhythmic strumming on acoustic
guitar propels the more upbeat tunes on the record, while the quieter songs are framed by graceful instrumentation
eloquently arranged with the help of producer Jeff Wood.
At times, Bloom's singing style is nervous and forceful, as with the quirky album-opener 'Delirious' and
his harsh but humurous chanting on 'An Irishman in Chinatown'. Sometimes his voice aches with echos
of the unknown, as on the ethereal 'Dreams In America'.
Though the album's 12 songs express a variety of moods, they're united by the acoustic ambiance and the pure
quality of material. There are no weak spots, and that's a rare achievement even among the most worthwile albums.
Indeed, when he's at his very best, Bloom's warrants being treated as a major new force in popular music.
Consider the reassuring serenity of 'The Man Is Alive', in which a son affirms the survival of his
father's spirit many years after the father has passed away. Or 'This Is for Life', a longing love
song about a woman married to an imprisoned husband.
It's difficult not to also mention the beautiful melodies of 'Hudson Lady' and 'Gone To Pablo',
or the emotional urgency of 'Rescue Mission' and 'The One', or ... well, you get the idea.
The only reason 'Riverside' falls short of classic status is that Bloom's lyrics, while never dull or silly,
usually aren't quite as brilliant as the music. Nevertheless, it's going to be difficult for any new artist to top this
record for debut album of the year.
Clancy's Irish Music Radio - Albums & Artists
With musicians of the calibre of Eileen Ivers and his nephew Conor Byrne helping him out,
it was inevitable that there would be an Irish feel to this album, shot through with dual imagery
of his new home Stateside, and that which he had left. A very personal record, it dealt with
love in its many moods, including a song about the marriage of Guildford Four man Paul
Hill to Marian Serravalli (they split up after a year!), and the fabulous 'Gone To Pablo'
not forgetting 'Hudson Lady' and the comic 'An Irishman In Chinatown'.
Stereophile - Recording of the Month - 5 August 1990
Recording of August 1990: Riverside
Can't tell you how many singer/songwriters I've heard live before they ever got signed up,
before they could even afford a band, just them and a guitar up there making us feel like
that (as Joni Mitchell used to sing). Finally the first album comes out, and wha-a-a-a?
The sleeve lists three producers, eight engineers, thirty session musicians (including
two synthesizer players, but not counting the strings), a Brazilian percussionist, and
none of the songs I've heard the poor slob sing for the last six years.
Not so Luka Bloom, who arrived from Ireland in 1987 with an unbending intent.
"I made a conscious decision before I went to America to create a solo performance
that would be exciting and relevant to rock audiences. I also decided that I was
going to create an audience for myself, without the help of record companies."
The directness of those statements tells you a great deal about the man and
his music. Bloom went straight from stage to studio, sans demo tapes, on his
own terms. Riverside, the album that resulted, is, as far as I can tell (not having
heard Bloom live), pretty close to what you'd get at a concert. There are seldom
more than one or two instruments added to Bloom's voice and steel-string
acoustic guitar on any one cut, and it's all atmospherically tasteful; only on the
keening 'Dreams in America' does a rock band emerge, and then only for
30 seconds of a six-minute song.
"I was brought up near the riverside, in a quiet Irish town / An 18-month-old baby
the night they laid my Daddy down / Everyone knew everyone, and everybody
else as well / My home was filled with sorrow then, too much for me to tell."
So Bloom introduces himself in 'The Man Is Alive', a sadly joyful ode to the
discovery of his long-dead father within himself. Such intimations of discovery,
of learning for the first time, set the tone for the album, as did the twinned
hope and frustration of John Wesley Harding's Here Comes the Groom (can't
help thinking of these two in a single mental breath).
But Bloom is no innocent, no brilliant youth like Harding. He's seasoned, lean,
on the album cover looking tough, uncompromising, serious - all without the
usual randy rocker posturing. The music has all the grab'em vitality of someone
used to appearing as a stranger before hostile audiences (he's opened for the
Pogues) and winning them over in a single song through sheer energy and
commitment - the story of Bloom's Stateside residency.
Bloom's guitar work - and whatever else I say in this review, remember that
this is acoustic rock'n'roll, and that anyone who's heard Elvis Presley's
original Sun sessions knows that the very first white rock'n'roll was acoustic,
not to mention drumless - will variously remind various of you of early Joni
Mitchell, Joan Armatrading, Richard Fariña, Tracy Chapman, John Fahey,
and Pete Townsend's power chording; this is the ultimate rhythm guitar album,
an acoustic Lou Reed with chops. The songs and singing hit with the
loneliness of Nebraska (Springsteen's only truly great album), but without
El Bosso's sometimes suffocating sentimentality. And with the occasional
cello, bodhrán, tombak (Iranian finger drum), fiddle, keyboard, and lots
of reverb, this is Enya at 78rpm, Daniel Lanois without his meticulously
worked murk, a Tommy Makem who's seen a dark, true light.
But as tastefully minimal as these added instruments are, I wish producer
Jeffrey Wood and Reprise had gone all the way and given us only Bloom's
guitar and voice - it's amazing how even so few instruments can sound
like designer clutter. LP and CD are very close, but the LP - great surfaces,
by the way - is ever so slightly deeper, rounder, fuller. Bloom and his guitar
are very upfront, all other instruments recessed in a deep sonic perspective
of brisk reverb. It ain't audiophile, but it do pull you in.
Bloom gets his Irish terminally up in 'An Irishman in Chinatown', turning
on all that gabby charm and laughing at himself while he's doing it, while
'The One' is a heroic song imploring a musician friend to not be a hero:
"You've been singing your guts out - isn't that enough to do?
Why should you be the one to go out on the edge?" A brave song
to sing without a trace of irony, as Bloom does here.
All of the songs have an entirely disarming, naked purity and directness,
Bloom wasting nothing on "singerly" refinements or affectations, either in
voice or in words. From 'Over the Moon': "When she moves, I watch
her / When she speaks, I listen / When she stands, I stand beside her /
When she laughs, I'm over the moon!", followed by a whoop and sung
to a lightning-strummed groove that makes Dylan's 'You're Gonna Make
Me Lonesome When You Go' sound like a dirge. And 'This is for Life'
is sobering in its total commitment. This guy's not fooling around.
Surfacing throughout the album are questions, dreams, longings for a
love left back in Ireland. She and Bloom are finally doubly united, in
the US in the flesh and in the song at album's end, 'You Couldn't Have
Come at a Better Time', which is so fresh Bloom sounds as if he's
writing it as he's singing: "Where is this place we've come to / We
don't know what to say / We long to see each other / And are
frightened of that day / When you look into my eyes my love / Tell
me what you see / Is it something you're not sure of / Is it something
true and fine / Or is it just another case / of the right thing at the wrong
time?" And the fiddle reels the chorus. The near-formality of the lines
is perfectly matched by Bloom's traditional Irish diction as he whispers,
There's something special happening in pop music when one major
label (WEA) can release in consecutive months first albums by two
such talented, clean-sweeping musicians as John Wesley Harding
and Luka Bloom. After going apeshit over JWH last May, I'm almost
embarrassed to be scraping up whatever superlatives are left over
for Bloom. Almost. Everyone should have such problems.
Makes me feel pretty stupid for carrying a guttering torch for Dylan
the last 20 years - it's been passed on while I wasn't listening.
But the word I've so far avoided, good people, is "noble". This
music has nobility, substance, integrity - blood and fire. It had me laughing
and crying within the same minute. And if you're not hooked by the first
15 seconds of rhythm-riffing on the opening 'Delirious', see a doctor. Fast.