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ALAN BURKE "On The Other Hand" Gurug Records APBCD001

It's a shame that my least favourite track of this album starts the whole thing off. The up-tempo electric treatment just makes "Yarmouth Town" too glib. It needs more conviction, to be told as a story rather than taken at a romp. But enough of that, because the good news is the rest of the album is really classy.

Burke has a really engaging way of singing, ideally suited to songs such as "Bridget Donaghue", where he also provides the overdubbed harmonies. And he really comes into his own when he sings traditional songs such as "The Bonnie Wee Lassie That Never Said No" or "Tullanahaw". He has a nice clean approach to the guitar, and on most tracks he only allows himself the indulgence of one other musician, such as Dezi Donnelly or Giles Lewin on fiddle or Francis McIlduff on whistle or pipes. The production for the most part is clean, unobtrusive and ideal for the material.

As well as the trad songs, he covers gems such as Tim Woods' "Freeman" and Richard Thompson's "You Can't Win", and his version grows more on me each time I hear it. It's back to the electric treatment for the final track, Burke's own song "What Price Oil?" This time though the production adds to the intensity of the song, a protest at the superpowers' neglect of countries that don't happen to have oil supplies. He could easily concentrate on contemporary song, but on the evidence of this album he still has plenty to add to the power of the tradition.

Graham Gurrin

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This album was reviewed in Issue 24 of The Living Tradition magazine.