A much-admired artist of great longevity, but a disc unlikely to add to the legend.
Imagine the scene. There you are with a new disc and you press play. There’s a clean white sheet of paper and there’s space for some comments on each track. You’re looking for some memorable tunes or playing, a technically perfect voice or vocals so singular they recall nothing you’ve ever heard before. Maybe there’s some lyrical wordplay that makes you smile or some ideas you’ve never considered before. Maybe just a challenging point of view or that ineffable something that lodges in your brain and won’t go away
So imagine if the last track plays and you realise you still have a blank sheet of paper. Is it the artist or the listener?
Paul Brady is highly rated and his press release shares plenty about his long and prolific career as well as the lengthy list of great artists (well perhaps not Joe Dolan) who have recorded his songs,
Paul Brady is one of Ireland’s most highly regarded and successful artists. Over his 40 year career, he has crossed musical boundaries, again and again, incorporating folk, rock, blues, traditional Irish and classic pop styles into his songwriting. Often classified as a musicians’ musician, Paul Brady’s songs have been covered by a huge array of major artists, including Tina Turner, Cliff Richard, Cher, Carole King, Art Garfunkel, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Joe Cocker, Trisha Yearwood and Phil Collins and, closer to home, Ronan Keating, Joe Dolan, Dickie Rock, Maura O’Connell, Liam Clancy and Mary Black’.
AUK’s own Jonathan Aird recently described the album, ‘Andy Irvine / Paul Brady’, as an, ‘album that the word classic was invented for’, and gave it 10 out of 10. Therein may be a clue.
The nub may well lie with the 9th track on, ‘Maybe So’, ‘Improvisations on the Galway Reel’, which whether you like it or not is completely different from the rest of the collection – and not just because it is an instrumental. It features Brady on mandolin, piano and keyboards and most tellingly was recorded in 1980 – only 4 years after the classic mentioned above. It wears its folk roots clearly on its sleeve and brings a little bit of spice to proceedings. Playing the Irvine / Brady collaboration described above reveals a collection nothing like, ‘Maybe So’. In fact of its kind, as Jonathan points out – it’s exemplary.
The rest of the album offers a perfectly acceptable selection of songs that may at times put you in mind of Stealers Wheel – it certainly seems, at times, to illustrate that, ‘classic pop style’, mentioned above. However, there is little there that merits the highest praise. A song like, ‘It’s a Beautiful World (now you are here)’ with its crying infant could be described as touching or perhaps veering towards the mawkish and it’s a final flourish that could better have been omitted. The sentiment of the song is not to be quibbled with – that the joy of a child is a great salve in a world of masks, forest fires and guns in the classroom. Imagine – responsible for the most child deaths in the USA – guns. This is one of the best vocals on the album although the collection is a little hit and miss as Brady veers at times toward the slurred delivery of John Martyn or the falsetto croon of Roy Orbison. There are some tracks, ‘Nothing is as it Seems’, for instance, where Brady’s voice betrays a struggle with some of the higher notes and yet others where there is no such difficulty.
Another notable track is, ‘To be the One’, with its nagging musical feel and the story of a man who doesn’t seem to grasp what is actually on offer. ‘Love Goes On’, is another stand-out and love in all its forms is a key subject throughout.
Perhaps the key line is in, ‘The Shape That I’m In’, – namely, ‘I’m in pretty good shape for the shape that I’m in’. There is a sense of coming to grips with an increasingly new reality – of getting older and the awareness that the powers are failing and there’s less to come in life than has already passed – particularly as described in, ‘Tower of Gone’.
Brady is clearly a much-admired musician and writer and has been able to change and grow throughout his very long career. This album is likely to please his admirers though I doubt it will top anyone’s must-have / must-listen list. More, ‘Galway Reel‘, would be guaranteed to float this particular boat but ultimately it’s not what the album is really about.
There are 7 different co-writers on the album and a range of supporting musicians – though Brady proves his multi-instrumental credentials by playing a variety of guitars and keyboards, bass, bouzouki, organ and percussion. The album is due for release on April the 22nd.