An album that the word classic was invented for.
Recorded in the long hot summer of 1976 at the legendary Rockfield Studios and originally released on Compass Records, Andy Irvine and Paul Brady – stepping away from the ashes of Planxty – joined with Donal Lunny, who contributed bouzouki and produced the record, and Kevin Burke who added the fiddle. The result was nothing short of the finest folk album one could ever hope to hear. Bizarrely not perpetually available, this remastered release not only offers a high quality digital transfer for the new CD version but also the option for the first time in over forty years to purchase a vinyl pressing. Both versions of this Special Edition release come packaged with a long essay which describes the story of the album and tries to capture just how it happened that something so magical occurred during the recording and mixing of this album.
It’s magic that can be heard from the very start – ‘Plains of Kildare‘ tells of a famous horse race, and features a discourse between the winning horse Stewball and his rider. In other hands and in other versions it’s a song that is treated as a somewhat corny novelty item – but here it’s taken seriously and carries the listener along at a hectic pace. There’s instrumental magic on ‘Fred Finn’s Reel / Sailing Into Walpole’s Marsh‘ which is quite simply a heavenly pairing of tunes – the Irish folk music session of your dreams with perfectly intertwined playing. And there are songs of soldiering life – the bravery of ‘The Jolly Soldier‘ who’ll fight for his bride (and her dowry), the reluctant admiration for a free spirit in ‘Mary And The Soldier‘, the young girl’s outwitting of bullying soldiers on ‘Martinmas Time‘ and the regrets of loss of love through a fatal wounding of ‘Bonny Woodhall.’ And of course there’s the sardonic anti-recruiting song ‘Arthur McBride And The Sergeant‘, a version so good that Dylan would lift it wholesale for ‘Good As I Been To You.’ This version is superior to Dylan’s.
Amongst all these tales there is one newly composed song. Andy Irvine’s ‘Autumn Gold‘ which recounts the more than mixed feelings experienced with leaving a village – and a girl – during one of his Eastern Europe extended excursions. And alongside all the traditional music it fits. It fits so perfectly. And that’s a phrase that can be applied to every track on the album – Andy Irvine’s and Paul Brady’s songs are perfect compliments to each other, whenever an instrument solos it is in just the right place and hits just the right note. The album, often referred to as ‘The Purple One‘, was always good, and much more than that. Getting on for almost fifty years later it still sounds fresh and exciting. In short it’s an album that can’t be recommended enough and if you have any interest in folk and roots music and you don’t have this album, then your record collection is incomplete. If you’ve ever wondered if you like folk but didn’t know where to start then listen to this album – if you don’t like it then you don’t like folk.