Looking like a working-class brawler and singing like Luke Kelly, Damien Dempsey is one of the more inspiring trad-Irish balladeers to step up in recent years. Shane McGowan has praised Dempsey for describing, in his songs, things as they really are ("Which is a pile of shit, you know what I mean?" McGowan says in a YouTube-archived interview) but also for seeing the beauty in Ireland's past and the possibilities for its future. Whether accompanied by his own guitar, a hollow banjo and a keening fiddle, or by all the strings of frequent collaborators the Dubliners — or just by himself in a room — Dempsey conveys more emotion with his firm baritone than most folks experience in a whole week. The cover of Dempsey's latest, The Rocky Road — an album stocked with classics such as "The Foggy Dew" and "Night Visiting Song" — shows the man himself savoring a snifter of whiskey in a pub, and once you've listened to a few tracks, you'll be right there with him. Fresh off an opening stint for the Oscar-winning Swell Season, Dempsey stops by Kansas City for two sets this weekend at the sixth-annual Kansas City Irish Fest. The bill also includes Celt-rock mainstays such as Enter the Haggis, Gaelic Storm, the Elders and Bad Haggis. Visit kcirishfest.com for information.