Released at the tail end of last year Reckless Heart is Bap Kennedy’s last work. Sadly, he succumbed to cancer on November 1st, shortly before the album release. Over the years since his days in Energy Orchard and then progressing onto a solo career Kennedy built up a reputation as one of Ireland’s finest songwriters marrying Celtic and American influences and although he was younger than peers such as Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello his body of work sits well alongside the likes of theirs. He had celebrity supporters; Steve Earle produced the first solo album and proclaimed him, “the best songwriter I ever saw” and Van Morrison, Shane McGowan and Mark Knopfler all collaborated with him.
Reckless Heart was all but done and dusted when Kennedy fell ill and was diagnosed with a terminal cancer early in 2016 so it’s not an album written by an artist facing up to his own mortality. Instead it’s a fairly joyous celebration of music and life with Kennedy less in thrall to America than he was on his previous release Let’s Start Again and delivering a generous dollop of good time songs with hints of rockabilly and rhythm’n’blues. There’s a deceptive ease to the songs, a measure of the man’s craft. Like Ronnie Lane he has the knack of seeming to be able to casually knock off songs that just hover in the air, all warm and fuzzy and memorable as on the second song here, Good As Gold, a delightful candy flossed gossamer of a song that summons up lazy summer days. The insouciant Help Me Roll It, the Basement Tapes like nonchalance of Reckless Heart and the easy rolling Honky Tonk Baby show a man at ease with his world and on top of his form as he revisits his rock’n’roll roots.
The album opens with the perfection that is Nothing Can Stand In The Way Of Love. Here Kennedy is again in Basement Tape Dylan mode and the band busk in fine fashion as accordion, organ and tasty guitar licks cement the rustic roots feel. I Should Have Said is an introspective love song tinged with regret which, with hindsight, is very moving, suffice to say that Kennedy here sings wonderfully while the arrangement with sensitive burbling bass, stately piano, organ swirls, curling guitar and female harmonies is dynamite. In a similar fashion Henry Antrim is another moving ballad that transports a cantina type melody to the Irish hinterland but Kennedy can kick out as on the rollicking closer It’s Not Me It’s You with its gutbucket guitar solo while Por Favor bursts with a nuevo wavo frenzy recalling the likes of Doug Sahm. The crowning glory however is the sombre The Universe And Me, another song that with hindsight grows in stature. Here Kennedy approaches Dylan’s metaphysical meanderings as he sings,
“There’s no music in money, there’s no money in love, there’s no love in this town tonight but I think I’ll stick around…I live between the stars upon the cosmic sea, And I’m down here all alone, just the universe and me. And I wonder why the sun shines and who taught the birds to sing. You can tell me all the numbers but nobody knows anything.”
It’s a beautiful number and as epigraphs go not a bad one.
Bap Kennedy is survived by his wife Brenda. Bravely Brenda and Bap maintained a blog detailing his treatment which you can read here.