ABOCURRAGH is Irish folk doyen Andy Irvine's first solo album this century. The aberration is partially explained by his insatiable thirst for travelling and touring, and his involvement with the revered ensembles Planxty, Patrick Street and Mozaik. Irvine, who recently completed his umpteenth tour of Australia, has used the talents of members of two of those bands for his latest release, multi-instrumentalist (and set producer) Donal Lunny predominantly. With Lunny and uilleann pipes master Liam O'Flynn lending their expertise, the evocative opening reading of Three Huntsmen certainly carries the legendary Planxty imprimatur. The fiddles of Rens van der Zalm and Bruce Molsky, on the other hand, invest one of the other traditional songs, James Magee, with a Mozaik feel. Another member of that multicultural quintet, Nikola Parov, on kaval (Balkan flute) and nyckelharpa (a stringed Swedish instrument), combines with a foot-defying time signature to lend The Demon Lover an exotic edge. Annbjorg Lien's hardanger fiddles provide appropriate accompaniment in Oslo, which details a boozy winter week in the Norwegian capital, before the piece segues Planxty-style into the traditional Norwegian Mazurka. Other originals, The Spirit of Mother Jones and Victory at Lawrence, espouse another subject close to Irvine's heart, 19th-century American workers' struggles and rights, and evoke the spirit of the author's hero, Woody Guthrie. With the self-penned The Girl From Cushendun and the well-thumbed standard Willy of Winsbury, he draws heavily on Irish and Scottish folk traditions. Both songs represent the perfect integration of the man and his mandola and are good vehicles for Irvine's unmistakable vocal delivery. Kate Burke and Ruth Hazleton, one of Australia's best young folk duos, blend exquisitely with the lead vocalist on Emptyhanded, the title of George Papavgeris's song alluding to convicts in Australia being cheated of their land rights. Mairtin O'Connor's accordion can be heard to better effect in a more stripped-back antipodean offering, New Zealander Bob Bickerton's The Close Shave, a sailor-duped-by-prostitute parody with a twist in its tail/tale, and the accompanying trad tune, East at Glendart. Irvine's prowess as a storyteller pervades and the contributions of the guest instrumentalists galvanise listener attention in the longer songs.
This week's music CDs | The Australian