Luka Bloom, the much loved Irish troubador who has been impressing audiences for years with his exhilarating live solo performing style, announces the release of his new album Eleven Songs on Bar/None Records on March 10th. Eleven Songs is his eleventh album and it is a return to the bold production work of his early critically acclaimed Warner Bros. releases 1990’s major label debut Riverside and 1991’s The Acoustic Motorbike. In the interim he has continued to work up innovative approaches to solo acoustic guitar and his voice has developed an incredible range that rolls from deep bass tones to soaring falsetto.
For Eleven Songs, which Luka co-produced, recorded and mixed with original Frames’ guitarist David Odlum, he has written a classic batch of songs including the catchy country folk of “On Your Side” and the poignant tour de force “Don’t Be Afraid of the Light That Shines Within You.” The record features Luka on a number of different guitars with tasteful backup that includes stand up bass and drums on some tracks and strings and a choir on others but is always centered with Luka’s voice and guitar.
In November 2007, Luka sat down with Odlum to discuss the 20 songs he had to consider for his the next record. Says Luka, “As well as a gifted and patient and creative engineer, David has great music in him, having been The Frames guitarist for many years. I felt we could make a great record together. We both agreed I needed to push the boundaries a lot more. These songs seemed to demand I move away from my comfort zone, and go to a large studio, to make a more traditional style record; great room, great musicians and singers, old microphones.”
“We wanted to capture an honest, and hopefully beautiful performance of the songs,” continues Luka. He admits being influenced by the Allison Krauss / Robert Plant album Raising Sand. “It seemed like a long time since I had heard such a raw, beautiful room sound. And we both thought, lets try to record the songs this way. It’s a simple formula, but quite rare these days; partly because it is really expensive, compared to the laptop in the bedroom records which are so common now.”
The album was recorded at Grouse Lodge in County Westmeath. “We sang and played and laughed, and ate like kings.” Luka continues, “During that time we were joined by Dave Hingerty (ex-The Frames), drums; Trevor Hutchinson, double bass, Liam O'Maonlai (ex-Hothouse Flowers) and Paul Smith on pianos. Liam also played harp on one song and sang. Joe Csibi brought a string quartet from Dublin. Kenneth Edge came down with soprano sax and clarinet. Sinead Martin came and sang with me. Conor Byrne played some flute. By the time we left Grouse Lodge 20 songs became 15, and we knew we were on to something good. Over the next few weeks we added some vocals from Robbie Moore, as well as a visit to the Gospel choir in Gardiner Street. Aoife Tunney was recorded for Everyman. Joshua Grange emailed us a pedal steel part from Los Angeles. And suddenly we were done by mid May, so off we went to Black Box again, and over 10 days, 15 songs became 11. We were done and we were, and are, very happy.”
The press in Ireland has been enthusiastic about Eleven Songs’ release. Hot Press proclaimed, “Bloom is nothing if not consistent. This is his 11th solo album in a career that stretches back over 30 years and he hasn’t made as duff record yet…it is warm and sepia-toned…The predominant theme is a spiritual one, encompassing love and loss: the crunch track is the wonderfully optimistic ‘Don’t Be Afraid of The Light That Shines Within You.’ Reminiscent of Astral Weeks-era, Van Morrison meets U2’s ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.’ It boasts soaring string and the massed voices of Gardiner Street Gospel Choir – a superb synthesis. All told 11 Songs is an album that reveals a superb craftsman working at the top of his game. Savour it.”
Eleven Songs’ stellar track “Don’t Be Afraid of The Light That Shines Within You” expresses Luka’s feelings at the beginning of 2009 and honors the yearly feast on February 1st in his hometown of Kildare, Ireland when groups of people gather to welcome the beginning of Spring and celebrate Brigid, the Patron Saint of Kildare who was the goddess of love, poetry and justice in pre-Christian Ireland. Luka says, “Every year we gather to welcome the light into our world; and to hope that more light will shine in the world; and that someday out of the darkness of war, hunger, greed, poverty, will come the light of community, sharing, justice, music, dance, peace and love. I wanted to write a simple song to share with everyone in Kildare, and light a spark for change. He wrote the song around 2000 and for years only sang it in Kildare, but in 2008 he felt a surge of energy around this song and recorded it for Eleven Songs. Luka continues, “This song is my prayer for the world, and I send it out at the start of this exciting and dangerous year, with love and hope in my heart for our shared future. Songs can also be prayers, blessings, and they can be a spark to ignite something beautiful in anybody. January 2009 could mark a great beginning. I hope it is”
The critical praise for Eleven Songs also included a “4 Star” rave in The Irish Times. “…he's sizzling like a neophyte who's just discovered the magic in a newly minted song. Sure, there are traces of Bloom's trademark percussive guitar style and his political instinct on Fire, but the rest is a highly personal journey: fingering stillness and, most of all, what it means to live comfortably in one's own skin. Acoustically, Bloom has created a space that serves his meditations well….this is a collection that doesn't so much assault the senses as infiltrate them, lingering long after the final note has sounded. A quietly triumphant return to his roots.”
Returning to the raw live sound of his earlier records and brimming with inspiring lyrics and sumptuous melodies, Eleven Songs reminds us why Luka is such a master of the concert stage and you can hear the pleasure that was had by all the participants in the album’s perfect grooves.