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There are three albums on review this month: Sean Tyrrell’s Moonlight on Galway Bay, The Songs our Fathers Sang, Morga’s For the Sake of Auld Decency and Loreena McKinnitt’s, The Journey So Far. Incomparably, the best of the three is Sean Tyrell’s. Interestingly, my wife and I were at the Sean Tyrell performance at Irish Fest in Milwaukee when the basis for this new album occurred. I remember it well, and have written about it before. Sean was in the middle of his set when an elderly woman walked up to him at the front of the stage, as bold as brass. It was obvious she was a total sweetheart. They had a nice chat. Sean returned to the microphone and announced that the lady had requested Galway Bay. Sean said he had never sung it in public before and didn’t remember all the lyrics, but would give it a try for her. I was moved by his kindness and sensitivity to her. He proceeded to sing as much of it as he could call to mind, and it was gorgeous. Truly. In the liner notes for this incredible CD, Sean recalls the moment, and reveals that he had theretofore been somewhat of a musical snob regarding these great old songs. Guilty, says he. But now he knows better. We have talked at length about this phenomenon with Mick Moloney and Jimmy Keane. There are Irish classic songs and tunes that, when we are younger, seem to us as clichés, better left for the St. Patrick’s Day American corned beef and cabbage circuit. We’re hip. We know better. We know where the great stuff is, and it is not in these tin pan alley songs. Along with that arrogance rides a fundamental lack of understanding of how these songs have tied millions to Ireland, whether they be emigres or people who someday dream of going there for the trip of a lifetime. As we get older, we far better appreciate than the young do what these lyrics mean, and how they move us. The why, wherefore, and how of it all. We come to the music because it has been waiting for us all along. And so this album.
Sean Tyrrell is a master, and we have loved virtually everything he has ever recorded since our initial introduction to him through his wonderful song, Mattie. We could go into long reveries about his previous work. The important thing here is that it is far different than this album. Sean has always been changing and growing in his artistry and in the way he approaches it. Now comes this masterpiece. I suspect strongly we are looking at Male Vocal Album of the Year here. The titles tell the game. Come Back Paddy Reilly, Carrickfergus, Down By the Glenside, I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen, The Mountains of Mourne, The Isle of Inishfree. Noreen Bawn, Danny Boy, and The Star of the County Down, are all there, along with several others. Excellent side musicians, starting with perhaps Ireland’s best piper, Tommy Keane give a really interesting instrumental backdrop to Sean’s versions. Words fail us, but we can best state our opinion of it as being almost impressionistic. This is all classical music in the Irish vein, and all completely new. Sean does what we love so much when great artists are at work. He does not soar vocally and try to impress us with the magnificence of his voice. He has done that in other albums. All of these songs are sung quietly and with deep emotion. This allows us to really hear and focus on the lyrics. No male Irish singer interprets lyrics better than Sean Tyrrell. So many of these songs in Sean’s hands come across as a revelation. We never would have dreamed that Sean would do an album like this, and we are thrilled he did. There is nothing quite as moving as hearing a familiar song for the first time. Let us repeat. Sean Tyrrell is master and this CD is a masterpiece. Whether you would give this CD as a gift to your parents or a youngster just starting out in their appreciation of real Irish music, both groups will adore it. There are these moments from time to time when you play a new CD sent to you by an artist hoping that you will spread the word, play the songs and tunes on a radio show, or write about it for a publication such as this. That is the commercial hope. Then there are those moments when the magic happens. When you turn it on and sit your cynical self back in your chair and are truly gobsmacked and overwhelmed. This happens from time to time with really great new, young artists who are previously unrecorded. It rarely happens with older, established greats such as Sean Tyrrell. We think we know what to expect. In fact, that is what we want. More of the old familiar. And then, on extremely rare occasions, this happens. True-Honest-to-God-Magic. Wow.
This album is so new and so familiar that you know that the artist is taking you on a new journey marked by familiar and wonderful road signs. The road signs here are Sean Tyrrell’s incredible voice, his artistic taste and his creativity. A Master. Wait. We said that before. Oh, well, let’s repeat it again. A Master. Seldom have we said thank you to an Irish artist for their music, and meant it more. Thank you, Sean. You are the Boy-o.
Morga is out with its new album, named at the top of this article. David Munnelly has joined the group and is now taking it in familiar directions for David. A real flair for the 1920’s and an almost ragtime style of Irish traditional music. The quartet’s new effort is very enjoyable and highly recommended.
Loreena McKinnitt has a new 2-CD album out, The Journey So Far. The ethereal harpist is a cult figure with her following numbered in their thousands upon thousands. They will flock to it. Those who do not care for the McKinnitt/Enya approach will not go near it. That is as it should be. This is all subjective. If you like Loreena, you probably already have this CD already, anyway. Either way, Enjoy.
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