Andy Irvine’s high profile music career spans not just 45 years but also encompasses some of the biggest high profile names in folk, from Sweeny’s Men in the 60’s; the cult status Planxty of the 70’s to Patrick Steet and the later famous duos with Donal Lunny, Dick Gaughan and Paul Brady, all of whom we have played on the station. His last solo album was was just over ten years ago so the arrival of a new solo album titled Abocurragh came with great personal anticipation and high expectations.
Listening to the album was like stepping back in time to a magical period in folk music. Andy still sounds and plays just like he did ten/twenty year ago. Fans will certainly not be disappointed! His voice is unmistakable, this is the voice that Ramblin’ Jack Elliott told Andy was more like Woody Guthrie’s than his own. A great honour for Andy who was a long time fan and corresponder with Woody who was his mentor. Like Woody he has travelled far and wide and has the credentials to be considered a true travelling troubadour. Those world travelling days, especially his travels in the Balkans in the late sixties were a big influence on his music and Planxty…I cannot possibly give justice to Planxty in this review so I really need to control my steps through Andy’s musical career as it’s far to easy to get sidetracked so I’m going to share this great video of the Planxty’s famous appearance on RTE’s The Late, Late Show in 1972.
Andy does on Abocurragh what he has consistently done for years: play and sing great traditional folk music. He kicks off the album with the Three Huntsmen, a tune he learned in the early sixties from Johnny Moynihan “who got it from Davy Smyth who got it from Paddly Lawless in Dublin”. It’s a widely collected song with many variations but he makes this one his own with some lovely accompaniment from his pal Liam O’Flynn on uilliann pipes and tin whistle.
Andy, Donal Lunny and Liam O’Flynn join forces on Willy of Winsbury, a Child Ballad. Andy recorded this solo on Sweeny’s Men’s first album in 1968. This track holds all the collective magic and energy of all three musicians. A perfect song and tune to include on the album.
Andy manages to thread together many inspirations on this album as well raising a glass to some such as George Papavgeris with his cover of Emptyhanded, on which the lovely Australian duo Kate Burke and Ruth Hazleton provide great backing vocals.
None of the tracks are over produced or over-filled instrumentally. On James Magee Andy plays mandola and is accompanied on fiddles by Rens van der Zalm and Bruce Molsky who also wrote the tune. The decision to use just two instruments is perfect, it doesn’t sound sparse, but lends an authenticity to the song that has Appalachian roots and connections with Northen Ireland.
Andy throws in humour in good measure with The Close Shave which tells the amusing tale of gold digger who is taken in by whom he assumes is a woman who takes him to bed and plys him with Whiskey and Porter…he passes out and awakens to find his pockets lighter than they were the night before.
On a more serious and sobering The Spirit of Mother Jones, he pays tribute to Mary Harris, a militant agitator for the rights of working men and women in America, especially miners.
There are too many highlights on this album to mention them all individually but what I do like about this album is that Andy makes no attempt to re-invent the wheel but he adds his own sparkle in his playing and singing that leaves me lost for words. The production talents of Donal Lunny are also very evident, he knows what works well and the selection and arranagement of musicians on this album could not have been better. Abocurragh is simply a magical album that is the work of a musical genius that will remain a classic!
Tracklisting and Samples:
1. Three Huntsmen
2. Willy of Winsbury
4. The Close Shave / East at Glendart
5. James Magee
6. The Girl from Cushendun / The Love of my Life
7. The Spirit of Mother Jones
8. Victory at Lawrence
9. The Demon Lover
1. Banks of Newfoundland
2. Oslo / Norwegian Mazurka
Order the CD from Amazon Now: Abocurragh
Andy Irivine pays tribute to Woody Guthrie