A singer and songwriter whose music is defined by passion, lyricism, and a respect of tradition coupled with a willingness to defy expectations, Luka Bloom is one of Ireland's best-respected contemporary folk artists. Bloom was born Kevin Barry Moore in Newbridge, County Kildare, Ireland on May 23, 1955. The youngest of six children, he grew up in a musical household; his oldest sibling is the celebrated folk musician Christy Moore, while his parents and siblings all play instruments. As a youngster, Moore (who usually went by his middle name Barry) took up the guitar, and became an accomplished fingerpicker by the time he entered his teens. Barry's talents impressed his brother Christy enough that in 1969, he took his 14-year-old sibling to England as his opening act for a club tour, and in 1976, Christy included two songs written by Barry, "Wave Up to the Shore" and "Jenny of the Sun," on his self-titled 1976 album. After completing primary school, Barry attended Newbridge College, where he and his brother Andy formed a group called Aes Triplex, and Barry later transferred to a school in Limerick. By this time, Barry was playing regularly on the Irish folk circuit, and quit school to pursue music full-time. In 1977, he joined the trio Inchiquin for a tour of Germany and the U.K., and a year later, he released his first album, The Treaty Stone. Barry toured extensively in support, but his music underwent a major creative overhaul in 1979, when he was diagnosed with severe tendonitis in his right hand. Unable to fingerpick as he once had, Barry began using a conventional plectrum and used a sharp, aggressive style that give his songs a tougher, more physical sound.
In 1979, Barry relocated to Holland, and his second album, In Groningen, was recorded in the titular city with Eamon Murray and a handful of Dutch musicians. In 1982, Barry returned to Ireland and cut his third album, No Heroes, his first set featuring all-original material. In 1983, he joined the Dublin-based rock band Red Square, and while he's called it a valuable experience that made him a more powerful performer, the group broke up in 1986 with little to show for their efforts. In 1987, Barry decided to very literally reinvent himself; he left Ireland for New York City, and adopted the stage name Luka Bloom, "Luka" from the Suzanne Vega song of the same name, "Bloom" from Leopold Bloom, the principal character in James Joyce's Ulysses. As Luka Bloom, he set out to create a more powerful and commanding performing style that would give him the power of a rock band while armed with just an acoustic guitar, and as he became a regular at a handful of New York venues, he developed a following who responded eagerly to his new style. After recording a self-titled "debut" album in 1988 for a small Irish label that quickly went out of print, Bloom was signed to Reprise Records, which released the album Riverside in 1990. Riverside earned enthusiastic reviews and featured a number of songs that went on to be fan favorites, including "The Man Is Alive," "An Irishman in Chinatown," and "Hudson Lady." Bloom's second album for Reprise, 1992's The Acoustic Motorbike, included Bloom's celebrated cover of LL Cool J's "I Need Love," and Turf followed in 1994. Despite positive reviews and a growing audience in Australia, Europe, and the Netherlands, Bloom didn't enjoy the breakthrough success in America that Reprise was hoping for, and he found himself without a record label.
Between 1994 and 1997, Bloom devoted himself to extensive international touring, taking some time off in 1995 to rest and regroup in Birr, a village in County Offaly, Ireland. The visit proved inspiring, and Bloom began writing a fresh batch of songs that he would eventually record in 1998. Salty Heaven, his first album in five years, was released by Sony in the U.K. and Shanachie in the United States, and predictably it was followed by more touring, after which Bloom relocated to Ireland for good. The year 2000 saw the release of Keeper of the Flame, in which Bloom interpreted the songs of other artists, including Bob Dylan, Radiohead, Bob Marley, the Cure, Tim Hardin, and Hunters & Collectors; it was also the first album whose copyright Bloom would own, opting to lease his material to a variety of international labels after his experience with Sony proved disappointing. The following year, Bloom collected highlights from his three albums as Barry Moore on a compilation called The Barry Moore Years, which he made available only through the official website he'd launched in 2000.
Bloom returned to songwriting with 2001's Between the Mountain and the Moon, which featured guest vocals from Sin+¬ad O'Connor, and he documented his skills as a live performer on the 2003 release Amsterdam, recorded during a 2002 date in support of Between the Mountain and the Moon. As Bloom wrestled with tendonitis again in 2004, he recorded Before Sleep Comes, a deliberately low-key set which, he said, was designed "to help bring you closer to sleep, our sometimes elusive night-friend." Released in 2005, Innocence returned Bloom to a more familiar style, but 2007's Tribe was an unusual collaboration, in which he created lyrics and vocals for a set of instrumental tracks written and produced by musician and composer Simon O'Reilly. A new set of original tunes simply called Eleven Songs was released in 2008, the same year Bloom issued his first live DVD, The Man Is Alive. A second live album, Dreams in America, primarily devoted to songs from his albums for Reprise, was released in 2010, and This New Morning, featuring 13 new songs written during Bloom's 2011 world tour, was released in the fall of 2012. Bloom became an author in 2013 with the publication of Homeplace, a collection of photos, essays, verse, and song lyrics collected from his years on the road. Bloom returned to music in 2014 with Head & Heart, an album recorded in the home studios of Bloom and Brian Masterson, with accompaniment by the Phil Ware Trio. ~ Mark Deming
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