Bap Kennedy’s critically hailed The Sailor’s Revenge album, released in June 2012, will be reissued by Proper American on January 8, 2013 as The Sailor’s Revenge Deluxe Limited Edition. Kennedy will celebrate the release with a rare U.S. East Coast tour bringing him to Washington, DC’s Hill Country BBQ (Jan. 3), Philadelphia’s World Café Live (Jan. 4), New York’s Hill Country BBQ (Jan. 5) and Boston’s Club Passim (Jan. 6).
The Sailor’s Revenge was named one of MOJO magazine’s Top Ten Americana Albums of 2012. British DJ and NoDepression.com blogger Alan Harrison named it the #1 Americana album of the year, calling it “truly a masterpiece from a man who is finally comfortable in his place in the world.”
Among The Sailor’s Revenge’s 11 bonus tracks are “Moonlight Kiss” from Kennedy’s Lonely Street as featured in the Miramax movie Serendipity; “Unforgiven” from the Steve Earle-produced Domestic Blues; “On the Mighty Ocean Alcohol” featuring Shane McGowan from the Morrison-produced The Big Picture; “Milky Way,” a writing collaboration with Van Morrison, also from The Big Picture; and the previously unreleased bonus track “Into the Arms of Love” from the recent sessions with Mark Knopfler-produced The Sailor’s Revenge.
Kennedy’s solo career has been distinguished by fruitful partnerships with the brightest and best. Steve Earle, who has hailed the Belfast-based artist as “the best songwriter I ever heard,” produced his 1998 solo debut, Domestic Blues. After Lonely Street (2000), a tribute to two of Kennedy’s childhood musical heroes, Hank Williams and Elvis Presley, he recorded The Big Picture (2005) at the studio of Van Morrison, who co-wrote the album’s “Milky Way,” while Bap was joined by the Pogues’ Shane MacGowan on another track, “On the Mighty Ocean Alcohol.”
The Big Picture caught the ear of Knopfler, who took Kennedy on tour with him as a guest artist and offered to produce his next album. Scheduling conflicts prevented Knopfler from working on 2009’s Howl On, a song cycle focusing on the Apollo moon landings, but the Dire Straits auteur has now made good on his word, helming Kennedy’s latest effort, The Sailor’s Revenge.
“It’s great to have the validation of someone like Mark Knopfler, and getting a chance to make a record with him, it’s not bad, really,” Kennedy says, with characteristic understatement. “I have a couple of different gears when I write, and Mark really likes my Celtic melancholy side. There’s a cinematic, widescreen quality in his work that I love, and we agreed that was where we wanted to go with this record.”
Kennedy’s first encounters with the record business were as rhythm guitarist, lead singer and primary songwriter for Belfast rockers Energy Orchard, with whom he recorded 5 albums. When the band left Belfast, they established themselves as legends of London’s live music scene. It was while he was in Energy Orchard that Kennedy first worked with compatriot Van Morrison, who gave the band several support slots to supplement their own hectic touring schedule of both the USA and Europe.
When Energy Orchard split up, Kennedy had little time to rest, because alt-country superstar and longtime Energy Orchard fan Steve Earle soon contacted him, suggesting that he would produce Bap’s first solo album. Kennedy agreed, and soon found himself on the plane to Nashville, TN, where he would record Domestic Blues. The album featured several of Nashville’s most highly regarded musicians, including Jerry Douglas, Peter Rowan and Nanci Griffith. It was a real success, getting into the Top Ten of the Billboard Americana chart. Kennedy’s song “Vampire” appeared in the soundtrack for Hollywood film You Can Count On Me, and three other songs from the album were used for cult classic Southie. More touring of the USA cemented the acclaim.
The follow-up album, Lonely Street, was an artistic project based on, and dedicated to, two of Bap’s childhood musical heroes, Hank Williams and Elvis Presley. In more ways than one, it was music that was made for the love of music, and this was reflected in the consistently positive responses from critics at respected music magazines including Q and MOJO. Once again, Kennedy’s work was used in a Hollywood soundtrack — this time it was ballad Moonlight Kiss, used for one of the key scenes in hit rom-com Serendipity (starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale), which is now a modern-day Christmas classic.
Bap’s next album, The Big Picture, was a return to working with Van Morrison, who had supported Kennedy since his Energy Orchard days. The Big Picture was recorded at Morrison’s studio, and included a Bap and Van co-write, Milky Way. The album also featured guest vocals from Shane Magowan, lead singer of the Pogues, on the song On the Mighty Ocean Alcohol, and a reading from Carolyn Cassady, one of the leading figures from the Beat generation of American writers, at the end of the beautiful Moriarty’s Blues. More excellent reviews from Mojo, et al., cemented Kennedy’s reputation as a songwriter growing more mature with every release.
The time following the release of The Big Picture was to mark profound changes in Bap’s personal, as well as professional, life. Shortly after Kennedy had brought his hard-living ways to an end, he worked with Knopfler for the first time — appearing as his special guest for a tour of the USA and Europe, including five nights at the Royal Albert Hall. It was during this period that Kennedy met his future wife, Brenda Boyd, an artist and songwriter herself who had also written several bestselling books on autism and Asperger Syndrome. Bap also produced Brenda’s album Banish the Blue Days.
For Howl On, released in 2009, Bap recorded in his native Northern Ireland for the first time in his solo career and, as with Lonely Street, returned a subject that had fascinated Bap in childhood. This time, it was a look at his youthful love for all things American, and the story of the moon landings, not portrayed as a technological feat, but as a moment in the lives of the real people who worked on the Apollo program. This was a collection of human stories held together by the shared thread of Apollo, and told beautifully by Kennedy.
This was followed by a successful tour of the U.K. and Europe, highlighted by a memorable performance at the Glastonbury festival. Bap continued his touring with several highly successful one-off gigs, including the renowned Belfast/Nashville festival and South by Southwest. He was also honored during this period to become patron of Autism NI.
The Sailor’s Revenge features Kennedy’s most mature and sophisticated songwriting to date — an achievement in itself when you consider his back catalog — as well as the instantly recognizable guitar work of Mark Knopfler, who also produced the album. Knopfler is joined by a collection of the most highly respected session musicians, such as Jerry Douglas and Glenn Worf, ensuring that the musicianship on The Sailor’s Revenge is every bit as good as the songwriting.
The 2013 U.S. Tour
Thurs., Jan. 3, 9 p.m. WASHINGTON, DC Hill Country (free)
Fri., Jan. 4, noon PHILADELPHIA, PA World Café Live (free)
Sat., Jan. 5, 8 p.m. NEW YORK, NY Hill Country BBQ
Sun., Jan. 6, 4:30 p.m. BOSTON, MA Club Passim (free to members)