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LUKA BLOOM

Barry Moore, younger brother of Irish singer-songwriter Christy Moore, cut three records of guitar folk in the late 70s and early 80s. But in 1988 he became Luka Bloom, borrowing his new name from a Suzanne Vega tune and the protagonist of James Joyce's Ulysses, and left Dublin behind to make his mark on the east-coast coffeehouse circuit. His barbed meditations on the human condition are softened a bit by his warm, ingenuous persona--storyteller, populist, vagabond, world-embracing dreamer--and he peppers his sets with low-key but earnest interpretations of tunes like LL Cool J's "I Need Love" and Prince's "When Doves Cry." On last year's Keeper of the Flame (Bar/None) Bloom plays nothing but pop covers, treating them like venerable folk songs and drawing out an element in each one that has universal appeal. His unsentimental reading of Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love" evokes a kind of longing balanced between hope and despair; he still wants redemption, but it seems he'd be just as relieved to be defeated and finally have it over with. And he croons "Throw Your Arms Around Me," by the Australian band Hunters & Collectors, with laconic ease--an absence of theatricality that makes his obsessive demands even scarier ("I'll squeeze the life out of you....We may never meet again, so shed your skin and let's get started"). But Bloom can't always rescue the material from itself: with just an acoustic guitar, he can't prop up the pop-lite melody of U2's "Bad," and the Cure's "In Between Days" sags beneath the weight of its trite lyrics, despite its lilting tempo and breezy changes. On Radiohead's "No Surprises," though, he sounds as if he's channeling every shell-shocked dead-end kid from Belfast to the Bronx, and he croons the title song--Nina Simone's ode to grandiose, self-pitying romanticism ("My torch of love, it lights her name")--with an unaffected vulnerability that all but dares you to mock him. Thursday, August 23, 7 and 9:30 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000. DAVID WHITEIS

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