Luka Bloom » Album Reviews
Luka Bloom - Riverside
Riverside Rolling Stone
The Gavin Report
The Indianapolis Star
The Austin American-Statesman
Clancy's Irish Music Radio

Rolling Stone - March 1990

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Reprise Records

"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.

Paul Evans

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!

Linda Ryan

Billboard - March 10, 1990

Luka Bloom - Riverside
Reprise 26092

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

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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.

Peter Blackstock

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, shouts, hoots'n'hollers.

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.

Richard Lehnert

© Rena Bergholz - Luka Bloom Page