Paul Brady – Unfinished Business
Proper Records – 8 September 2017
The breadth of appeal in Paul Brady‘s music has perhaps never been more clearly exhibited than in his first solo album for seven years – Unfinished Business. In a career that has spanned more than five decades, produced 15 solo albums and more collaborations than seems possible in one lifetime; Brady’s skill as song writer, musician and singer flourished with the folk revival of the sixties and seventies, then grew to chart and reflect on the cultural and political changes of the eighties and nineties. It’s a career that has seen Brady effortlessly embrace a wide range of influences, producing honest and accessible music that, as time goes on, continues to reach out to a wider audience.
Unfinished Business opens with its title track and a soft jazz quartet. Add in a sleepy bass and Brady’s in the mood for crooning. Mellow barely begins to describe the vocal and piano interplay, as upright bass and perfectly understated vocal harmonies send warm tingles down the spine. It’s a deliciously smooth opening that finds its peer towards the end of the album with the gentle song of love and hope, co-written with veteran song writer Ralph Murphy, Once In A Lifetime.
Following on from his last studio album of new music, 2010’s assured and highly acclaimed Hooba Dooba, Paul recorded Unfinished Business at his home studio in Dublin, playing most of the instruments and engineering the album himself. Two of the album’s tracks see Paul return to traditional favourites, while the remainder, like Once In A Lifetime, have been co-written – three with New York based Irish poet Paul Muldoon, and five with acclaimed Nashville songwriter and producer Sharon Vaughn.
Together the songs succeed in highlighting Brady’s success as a collaborative song writer, and offer a glimpse of almost every musical twist and turn his five-decade career has taken. It’s almost as if, after turning a very youthful 70 this year, he’s spent the last few years nurturing songs that reference every aspect of that career to date.
Those gentle love songs are contrasted by the crisp and quirky I Love You But You Love Him. Finding hope in the notion that opposites attract, the song’s upbeat keyboard and infectious rhythm confirm that Brady is as much a master of pop/country as he is of folk song. The song is well matched by the engagingly entertaining lyric of I Like How You Think – both bringing a little heat to the album’s mix. The driving beat of Say What You Mean offers an edge that’s equally sharp but on a more contentious level, as Brady and Muldoon join forces in an acerbic put-down of the ill-informed critic.
It’s when writing along-side Sharon Vaughn, though, that Brady’s mellow side shines through. The genial, downbeat Oceans of Time enjoys all the hallmarks of a Paul Brady classic and a simply beautiful flute solo that drifts away on dreamy synth and chimes. That steady, mellow pace is mirrored as Harvest Time encourages us to kick back and float gently down river, along with an equally mellow jazz guitar.
In contrast, the energy, soul and bold brass of Something To Change is sure to draw favourable comparisons with some of Van Morrison’s most popular work. The sheer strength of the backing vocals and the vehemence in the closing chant bringing an element of social comment. Maybe Tomorrow is an engaging celebration of the moment, where flute, accordion and mandolin provide the pace and excitement that will make this a stand-out track for many listeners. The unashamedly Irish twinkle in its eye also serves as a timely reminder of Brady’s peerless ability with a folk tune – which brings us to the two traditional songs that form part of his Unfinished Business.
The Cocks Are Crowing makes the most of that clear, soulful voice; and expertly adapts a traditional song to fit around the wider sound of keyboards, picked guitar and soft percussion. With harmonica and accordion for the bridge, it’s an almost hymnal celebration of the traditions that inspired Paul’s early music. One of those early influences was Pete Seeger‘s rendition of Lord Thomas And Fair Ellender, which Paul returns to for the album’s close. Riding on a beautifully melodic guitar and decked out in rustic harmonica; with its tinkle of mandolin and balladeer vocal, the song is a prince in pauper’s clothing. It closes the album on a traditional note that will have habitual Paul Brady fans reaching for their copy of Welcome Here Kind Stranger, or his incomparable 1976 collaboration with Andy Irvine, and new converts inspired to discover those particular delights for the first time.
Paul Brady is a master craftsman when it comes to not just writing songs, but establishing a setting that provides a perfect fit. Combine that skill set with a soulful voice that has the power to stir and the sense to soothe, and we can begin to see why an album with such varied influences, that provides us with such a wealth of dissimilar approaches, can still be enjoyed as one unified whole. There aren’t many who could pull it off, and even fewer can do so as convincingly.
Unfinished Business isn’t a title that hints at unfulfilled musical ambitions. Rather, it confirms that, on turning 70, Paul Brady still has plenty more to offer. Everything about Unfinished Business tells us that he is likely to remain, for some time yet, at the very peak of his powers.
Order Unfinished Business here http://smarturl.it/ami1kf
Watch Paul performing Harvest Time (written by Paul Brady and Sharon Vaughn). Filmed on iPhone by Paul Brady as the first in a series called ‘Doing What I Do’.
For details of all of Paul’s upcoming tour dates visit: http://www.paulbrady.com/