Tony Reidy’s a well-regarded singer/songwriter, musician and raconteur, hailing from a small village near Westport, Co. Mayo. He’s released three CDs so far – The Coldest Day In Winter (2002), A Rough Shot Of Lipstick (2006) and Hayshed Days (2010) – and now his latest Round Tower Blues, while a natural followup to these, also (says Tony himself) forms something of a musical departure – if only in its open, enthusiastic adoption of a more homespun ambience and production than its predecessors (this time, Tony plays everything himself – guitars, mandolin, banjo, harmonica, primitive keyboards and percussion – and sings his own harmonies too). Having said that, Tony’s earlier albums were noteworthy for their lightness and transparency of texture, so perhaps he’s being more than economic with his assessment!…
Thematically and stylistically, the batch of 12 new self-penned songs showcased on Round Tower Blues is very typically Tony, in their characteristic mix of local pride and edgy social commentary, lyrical poetry and an often mischievous sense of humour. The feel of Tony’s music is one of a thoroughly likeable, genial folky realism, with a chummy conviviality in the music-making and simple arrangements that more than anything else recalls the spirit of Dr. Strangely Strange.
On Round Tower Blues, our access point, our Intro to Tony’s world, comes with the chuckling banjo rhythms of Devilment; this song has a flavour of Colum Sands at his most puckish, playfully cognisant of human behaviour, here poking gentle fun at the dancers at the local hall. Tony’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek observance of humankind continues on Hippies In Dress Suits, complete with Dylan-style harmonica intro and mirroring Guthrie with its Deportees lilt, The musings of the album’s title song take their cue from Tony’s reminiscences of growing up in Aughagower in the 60s thinking of far-off worlds like San Francisco and free love and feeling the urge to get out every now and again. The childhood memories of Delicate Flower embody and evoke a strong sense of place and time, of Tony’s ancestral connection with the land and its culture; even though he’s not a native Gaelic speaker, the chorus of this song is an affectionate incantation in that very language. The thoughtful, poignant, if also slightly regretful stance of It’s Good To Be Alive draws a parallel between the learning of life’s lessons and learning the mandolin.
In my opinion it proves a tall order for Tony to surpass the charm and memorability of the album’s first five tracks, but there’s still plenty to savour in the second half of the record, not least in the gentle keening refrain of He’s Getting Ready (to go back to Mother Earth), and in the deliciously spiritual Sound Prayer, which would almost not have sounded out of place on the Incredible String Band’s Wee Tam & The Big Huge. There’s something of the rustic communing-with-nature feel of mid-period Donovan at times too, as on Blue Stone. The disc’s closing song Your Boy, while musically echoing Sandy Denny’s Listen, Listen, tenderly recalls (amidst other early memories) the cathartic moment when hearing Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone revealed to Tony his calling as a songwriter.
Tony’s facility with lyrics is acutely developed and yet feels effortless – for, to quote from Your Boy, he invariably finds “the words that fit”. There’s something both catchy and comfortingly familiar about Tony’s melodies, and individual patches of phrasing and rhythm may quite uncannily recall pop or folk songs Tony may have heard during his formative years (again, though, in the nicest possible way!) – for instance, I can’t avoid hearing Ray Davies’ Days on It’s Good To Be Alive and A Restless Soul, and I’ve already namechecked other resonances…
Round Tower Blues is one of those albums of near-perfection that both deserves your close attention and withstands close scrutiny in spite of its deceptive simplicity of expression. To be sure, there’s the very occasional curiously-interpolated sound-effect coda (wood-sawing, or seascape), and maybe a couple of the songs feel not-quite-finished, but such is the intensely appealing, intimate nature of Tony’s writing generally that his music still exerts a strong pull for me to return to its delights – often (a practice to which I had also found myself succumbing with Tony’s previous records).
Review by: David Kidman