Dirty Linen - #54 - October/November 1994
Luka Bloom talks to Denise Sofranko
... This year Bloom went back to basics and recorded Turf,
an album that captures the essence of what he is and what he does on stage. For those fans of
Bloom as a live performer, the only thing they will miss on this new album is the visuals and the
active interplay with the audience. During his live shows one is instantly struck by the energy
emanating from Bloom. The rocking, bouncing, and pacing onstage make you wonder if he's
got hydraulics in his knees or in his shoes. Frequently before taking the stage he will
announce himself: "Hello. I'm Luka Bloom. Please make me welcome." He connects
with the audience with a look or a comment to an especially boisterous fan in ways that few
singer/songwriters with acoustic guitars can. The long surveying look during the break of his
cover of LL Cool J's rap, 'I Need Love', sends yips and screams through the crowd.
He is indeed delightful onstage. Like many performers, he professes to getting energy from
his audiences but in this Irishman's case there's a step-up transformer somewhere; this isn't ordinary energy....
In fact it was a Dutch audience from a show Bloom did at Tivoli in Utrecht, Holland that
provided the introduction in the form of a mass chorus to the song 'The Fertile Rock' on Turf.
With Turf, Bloom has finally made the album that begins to define him, the one he
always knew was there. In December of 1993, he went into a Dublin studio with his
engineers and co-producers, Paul Ashe-Browne and Brian Masterson, and carefully
miked the performing space. Adding concert lights, monitors and everything for a live
show except the audience, Bloom began to record a set of songs that were as close
as possible to his live shows. He called on a loyal group of fans to be there for one
of the sessions, but there was one hitch. They couldn't make any noise during or
immediately following each song. That's asking a lot of any fan, especially Bloom's,
but they complied and the resulting album is one in which the listener feels he is the
sole member of the audience. "They were amazing," said Bloom.
"I talked to them about it and I said I really appreciate your coming, but I
don't need your approval. That's not the reason we're here. If anybody really
needed to express themselves, I just asked them to be quiet for 10 seconds
after the song was over. The song would end and there would be 10 seconds
of silence for the fade and then they could do whatever they wanted."
Turf is a sometimes global, sometimes very intimate look at what is
important to this songwriter. The turf, the land, the soil and all that it involves is
paramount here. Turf to an Irishman can mean many things. It's something used
to fuel fires in the winter, it's a treasured land often left behind. It's taking a stand
when your back's against the wall. It's sacred ground that is not meant to be messed with.
Bloom's feeling for the land, for Ireland especially, gets to the heart of the fact that Ireland is a
country that people seem to be constantly leaving, usually not voluntarily, but either because
they were physically forced or because they had to leave to earn a living. 'Diamond Mountain'
is a wrenching song that expresses the grief and longing of a people forced to leave their homeland.
"It's unusual in that it's not a song that's born out of any huge personal emotional difficulty or
anything like that," said Bloom. "It's a song that came about after physically being
on the mountain. So it is a very physical song. Diamond Mountain is a real place. It's the
most westerly of the 12 Pins in Connemara. You're on top of this hill and behind you are
the other 11 mountains and on the other side are the Aran Islands and the ocean and the
next stop is America. It's in an area where a lot of people emigrated from over the last
150 years. There's a dual thing going on in this area of a great sense of desolation and
of loss and of almost a bleeding of people, but also there's an incredible sense of
permanency from this amazing mountain."
While the subject of leaving and longing can get very depressing for anyone with that
experience, Bloom sees things in Ireland looking up. 'Freedom Song' reflects
the thought that perhaps there are some positive things happening, especially where
more and more women are assuming positions of power, both in the States and in
Ireland. Impressed by the number of women getting elected to office in the U.S. and
the fact that Ireland's president is a woman, Bloom wrote this song to try and distill
these feelings into a concise song that uses Rosa Parks and Nan Joyce as focal
points and symbols of things even more universal.
In fact one of his songs speaks to people who can't easily accept things the way they are.
'Right Here, Right Now' is his "carpe diem" song of sorts.
"I think that everybody arrives at a point in relationships with people where
they get engrossed in analysis. I have this great phrase that says that 'analysis
is paralysis.' There are certain things that just can't be analyzed. It's so easy
sometimes to forget just what we have; to lose touch with the simplicity of good
health, a roof over our head, a bed to sleep in, food in stomach. These kind of
basic things that we just lose touch with sometimes. Sometimes I get really
frustrated when I'm in the company of people who are just constantly analyzing
and studying and analyzing and intellectualizing and I just want to shake them
and go 'Live now. Today. Now. This is it.' It was one of those moments when the
song just sort of exploded."
He shows a similar attitude in a stance he and many others have taken concerning
an area in the Burren, County Clare, but this time it's an interpretation of the
environment and not a song. The Irish government wants to build an interpretive
center on a piece of land that Bloom and many others feel needs no explanation.
The movement to stop the center spawned an album, including a song, ('The Fertile Rock')
which Bloom recorded for Turf. Bloom was given a tour of the area at the foot of
Mullaghmore Mountain several years ago by P.J. Curtis, an Irish musician/producer
and one of the leaders of the movement. "He didn't even actually have to
explain it. He talks so passionately about it really affected me. When you're in this
place you realize two things. One, how precious it is in itself, and two, how precious
the silence is there. It's a very unique place and very magical place. There's
just no need to build something in the heart of it that interprets what's going on
around it. I just believe that there are certain places in the world that should be
hard to get to. People should really want to go there badly enough that they
have to make an effort. It's this conflict between the people who want the tourist
dollar and the people who want to preserve something that's precious that's
been there for thousands of years. Like other songs, when I sing it in America
or Australia, it tugs at something in every heart because its a universal problem."
Realizing the power that music has for many people, Bloom also recognizes it in
his own life. Were it not for performers like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, Bloom
may never have found the inspiration to play himself. He continues to look to
other musicians today for renewed inspiration, claiming Chet Baker as a current
one along with some of the rap and hip hop groups. Mitchell was an obvious
influence and her Blue album affected his musical journey. His song 'To Begin To',
is a tribute to Mitchell, whom Bloom has never met...
Miami New Times - 14 September 1994
Luka Bloom - Turf
Unlike some of his contemporaries, Irish folkie Luka Bloom has never been swayed by
the prospect of commercial success, and his latest album erves as a tribute to his
eloquence and integrity. Recorded live, relying solely on his heartfelt vocals and
a lone acoustic guitar, these thirteen songs ring with rare passion and purpose.
Perhaps it's part of a trend. With the recent releases of Johnny Cash's American
Recordings and two back-to-the-basics albums by Bob Dylan, it's time to accept
the notion that no amount of studio wizardry can take the place of great songs well sung.
In this case, that's obvious from the outset, with Bloom belting out such beautiful
ballads as 'Diamond Mountain', 'To Begin To' and 'Freedom Song'.
He serves up a stirring, sensual set, one that is, by turns, impassioned and introspective.
However, despite its mellow mood, the music often proves quite compelling,
particularly in the case of 'Right Here, Right Now' and 'Holding Back the River',
where Bloom's evocative execution becomes a riveting revelation. Okay, so Bloom may
never become a champion on the charts. Here, on his 'Turf', only the music matters.
Lee "Train" Zimmerman
TOP 10 LIST - Reto Koradi, Switzerland
Katell Keineg, Neil Young, Pulp, David Byrne, Luka Bloom, Blur, Elvis Costello, Stiltstkin, Tori Amos, Levellers
5. Luka Bloom - Turf (Warner)
It takes courage to follow up a successful album with such a slow, emotional one.
But it's so beautiful that it almost makes me cry.