Michael J Sheehy – The Crooked Carty Sings: Album Review

Very simply – another side of Michael J Sheehy.

Michael J Sheehy The Crooked Carty Sings Album artwork

Release Date: 3rd December 2021

Label: Bandcamp exclusive / Lightning Archive

Format: digital

Here’s a most interesting release. One that channels the sound of a musician making new discoveries and moving into what’s by its nature, a very ‘traditional’ area but with new eyes and buoyed by the thrill of discovery.

Traditional folk songs are a rich mine, regularly plundered, emerging with new versions and new tunes added to old words on a constantly moving conveyor belt of interpretation. Michael J Sheehy takes a break from several projects – the excellent raw rock Miraculous Mule, the electronic psych he plies in United Sounds Of Joy and his own wonderfully relaxed Distance Is The Soul Of Beauty album. He has many fingers in many pies, so we shouldn’t perhaps be surprised by another shift in focus.

What’s refreshing about The Crooked Carty Sings is the lack of any preconceptions about what folk songs and the traditional should look or sound like. His ears and eyes bring a fresh perspective.

As he explains, the songs recorded over the spring and summer of 2021 form “a collection of bastardised folk songs, murder ballads, traveller tunes and sea songs. I am not an aficionado, traditionalist or collector of songs. Most of these songs were brand new to me, and half of them I have wrenched away from their traditional melodies and set the words to new tunes. I have used these songs to push out and explore new possibilities.” Where it will eventually lead no-one knows, but The Crooked Carty Sings allows us to accompany Michael J. Sheehy on a journey of discovery as he explores songs which have been sung and passed on for decades by many singers and musicians.

He’s the new kid on the block adding his own interpretations and Green Grows The Laurel finds him hitting the ground running. He’s already tinkering with what he’s heard by Sandy Denny; words are changed and the song is set to the drone of a reversed guitar loop like he’s been rearranging traditional songs all his life. The same eerie tone accompanies the one song “that’s been with me for a while.” Am I Born To Die? is one of those that’s so effective sung as a lonesome blues/spiritual with no accompaniment, yet the drone adds a solemnity and an ominous presence that makes the piece ever more threatening. It’s that very drone and loop that could well be the new sound of spiritual blues rather than the bottleneck slide/cigar box guitar.

Mal Troon nails it with the brief to pitch his guitar somewhere between Richard Thompson and James Burton as Sheehy focusses on the found words for Blow The Candle Out. It’s a crystal clear take with an underlying shimmer and whether you’d call it a Folk Rock or a C&W lead line that sears into the skin.

The satisfaction of being able to sing lines like “I wish to see you laid in your coffin with satisfaction wrote on your shroud” is what makes this thrill of discovery so vital – even when cloaked in a gentle duet between a courting couple. Kudos for the outstanding contributions of Suzanne Rhatigan, who resists the chance to really snarl the words, hiding her contempt in an angelic tone.

Have I heard Eliza Carthy do What Will We Do When We Have No Money? With Saul Rose? Probably…but Sheehy, not for the first time, pays thanks in particular to Lankum and Mary McCarthy, mentioned in despatches as Sheehy explains the genesis of his version of this one. The aching delivery reflects the rather salubrious subject matter.

Talking of which, the old folk staples of death, murder and water take centre stage in What Put The Blood? (the found words given his own tune – a relatively bright one at that) and Love Is Kind To The Least Of Men. The latter in particular is a fascinating, disturbing and sadly true tale introduced with the spoken prayer of Suzanne Rhatigan over sounds of the sea. One that evolves into the sprawling epic, drenched in gently stroked and heavily reverbed guitar as though Daniel Lanois has had his hands on the control. It’s sung like a hymn that evokes spiritual Elvis and the Big ‘O’ although could similarly be a missing piece from Dylan’s Time Out Of Mind period. A. stunning curtain closer.

Whether or not we’ll see any appearances on next Summer’s folk festival bills might be doubtful, but with the quality on offer on The Crooked Carty Sings, it proves a very very worthwhile experiment and one that I for one, hope has some legs.

Michael J Sheehy

Michael J Sheehy online: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Bandcamp

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