Review: Phil Lynott, A Singular Star

Phil Lynott/A Song for While I’m Away/Thin Lizzy/The Boys Are Back in Town – Live at the Sydney Opera House, October 1978/ Mercury
Four Out of Five Stars

Videos by American Songwriter

Phil Lynott may be the most under-appreciated rock star of the past 50 years. Granted, Thin Lizzy got its fair share of kudos at the time, with most of the praise focused on the band’s best-known offering, “The Boys Are Back In Town.” Lynott, who served as the band’s musical mainstay, now seems like more than a footnote as far as his fame is concerned, given that his lingering legacy is often negated.

It’s welcome news, then, that this CD/Blu-Ray box set seeks to rectify that situation. A retrospective reexamination of Lynott’s life and career, it includes heretofore unreleased live recordings featuring the Lizzy’s classic line-up of Lynott on bass and vocals, guitarists Scott Gorman and Gary Moore, and drummer Mark Nauseef as captured at a performance at the Sydney Opera House in 1978. Lynott, who died at the age of 36 in January 1986 due to complications from drug use, was a charismatic front man, a black man born out of wedlock, raised by grandparents, grew up in Dublin, subjected to racism, and yet still managed to achieve stardom after overcoming the odds. Happily then, the set list shared here caps some of his most memorable material—“The Boys Are Back In Town” (natch), “Cowboy Song,” “Jailbreak,”  “Don’t Believe A Word,” and “Johnny the Fox Meets Jimmy the Weed,” among them. All sturdy rockers, their power, and presence are preserved in these passionate performances on both CD and DVD.

The documentary Songs for While I’m Away, a film by Emer Reynolds and produced with the cooperation of the Lynott estate, is especially insightful, given that it offers an insider’s look at Lynott’s life and music. His songs are well represented, but it’s the intimate glimpse of his personal journey, as shared through Lynott’s own words and those of his family, friends, and fellow musicians (among them, Adam Clayton of U2, James Hetfield of Metallica, and Midge Ure, briefly a member of Thin Lizzy and the hems of Ultravox, that prove especially illuminating and insightful. Hetfield says of him, “he was fearless in his songwriting. Ure praises Lynott for “bringing poetry into hard rock.”

 Others that knew him are equally effusive in their praise. Lynott himself begins the proceedings by proclaiming himself in song as a lover, family man, poet, and dreamer, and by the time the narrative unrolls, it’s clear that he lived up to his own billing. The early photos and archival video of a young Lynott as a young boy, and later, in his first band, the Black Eagles, are especially insightful and effectively fill in the backstory of this charismatic multi-faceted performer whose legend looms large amongst those who appreciated him at the time but saddened that he left the world too soon.

For all the others, this is both an ideal introduction and a timely reminder about a musician who was and remains, a singular star.

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