Elder statesman of Irish music Paul Brady goes forth defiantly, if a little frailer, definitely unbowed
Release date: 22nd April 2022
Format: CD / digital
The second of two recent Paul Brady releases, last month having seen the re-release of his fabled duo recording with Andy Irvine (the ‘Purple album’, reviewed here) from, heck, all of 45 years ago. Perhaps no longer the fresh faced boy on that album cover, here his now grizzled fizzog is still undeniably that of the same fella, the good news being that the 11 new songs are confirming that point, and how! And the better news that he’s still got it, the voice that could melt the most frozen of hearts. Back in 1976, he was still a hardcore folkie, fresh from the last original line-up of Planxty, ahead of his stellar reinvention as a singer songwriter beyond compare, his run of records since then a masterclass in the art. With it now 5 years since the presciently entitled, Unfinished Business, some had feared him lost in action, making the receipt of this all the more a pleasure.
Starting with the swaggering boogie of How Come I Feel Bad, I confess Brady left footed me with this opener, the sort of lightweight rocker that he can write in his sleep, and that tend to end his shows rather than open his albums: think The World Is What You Make It. One man’s meat and all that, but any further negativity is thoroughly extinguished by Nothing Is As It Seems, an exquisite construction, pathos exuding from his voice, frailer than memory, and all the more charming for that. Over a consummate backing of strummed guitar, electric piano and, I think, accordion, second song in and we are home and dry. Slide guitar weaves in sinuously, a no nonsense and no frills rhythm section all that is necessary, jettisoning all the rest. A slightly strange synthesiser middle eight, redolent of a fairground, adds to the slightly discombobulated mood of the lyric. To Be The One is another all initially acoustic strumming intro, into which sashays a samba percussion track, melding the different styles effortlessly. Territory he has explored before and all the more welcome for that. Multiple Paul Bradys sing backing vocals and I’m hooked, some unctuous double bass underpinning the whole.
The Shape That I’m In has that electric piano sound that is so familiar, reassuring and warm to lovers of Brady. A deprecating reflection on ageing, and acceptance of the ravages. “I’m in pretty good shape for the shape I’m in,” he sings, and aren’t we all? Nobody sings a plaintive soaring yeah better than Brady, and here he excels. The Tower Of Gone is another wry song, country tints of pedal steel weeping over more gentle reminiscence, Brady sounding very comfortable in his years. And, yes, the punning title is a play on Laughing Len’s similar paean to/from the older performer.
Should you be worried where firebrand Brady has gone, railing and racking at the injustices of this world, It’s A Beautiful World (Now you Are Here) harks back, if now a little more resignedly, to that persona. Sure, we’ve wrecked the planet, but the gurgling baby at the close if the song show Brady still has some hope for the present, likely in that child. The single that preceded the album, there are very, very few songs that can stand the presence of baby talk, a vanity only eclipsed by infant choirs, but, y’know, the boy done good, and I may even have something in my eye. A lovely minor key melody, too. When Love Comes Tumbling In is arguably another slighter construction, and from another throat it might be. But Brady’s great gift is to meander around and about his melodies, never losing the tune, if often seeming to soar away, before returning to the template.
Just Behind The Veil captures the next step to his earlier songs on ageing, the lyrics addressed, from beyond the grave, to console those left behind. A little gloopy, it’s true, nonetheless I can see this featuring in many a future big screen weepy, as the credits roll. And probably played at a fair few funerals too. Lest it all perhaps be getting too cosy, we then get a timely reminder of his roots, with a wondrous instrumental, Improvisations On The Galway Reel, his dancing mandolin tinkling over elegiac piano, only breaking into jig for the coda, a drone maintaining the decorum, before the speed accelerates ever onward. (Personally, this is the one I’d nick for my funeral.)
Stories, for me, is slightly too by numbers, the kitchen sink production a little busier than the content, but it is all relative. Thankfully, Love Goes On goes on to save the day, more piano led class, the rhythm a slow shuffle, which then allows the middle eight to give a yearning unexpected turn, Brady’s croon the aural equivalent of hot soup inside, when, outside the tent, it is dark and stormy.
A mellower and world worn Brady inhabits these songs, the connecting themes of maturity tempered with neither regret or apology, just an acceptance of what is and what has been. I would like to know, Brady apart, who else contributes, my copy giving no mention, with no ideas proffered by an on-line search. However, I would not be surprised if it were mainly he and he alone, the timbre smacking very much of being a lockdown album, perhaps in a home studio. Headphones and an introspective mood would be my recommendation for your consumption of this record. Welcome back, Kind Stranger.
Here’s the aforesaid single, baby and all. (Eat your heart out, Stevie Wonder!)
Paul Brady online: website / facebook / twitter / instagram
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Wonderful review! I find myself surprised at how much I liked this album. Perhaps I’m a tad older, too…