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ALIAS RON KAVANA - "Galway To Graceland" - CD ARK002

Who the hell does Ron Kavana think he is? He produces an album of Blues, Tex Mex, country, rock, cajun, and occasionally Irish influenced music and sends it to us expecting a review. His definition of "traditional" must be wider than the gap between politicians and the truth, or is that straying into the realms of infinity. Fortunately, I don't care who Ron Kavana thinks he is, for I know, he is a musical genius who has produced the most innovative CD of the Year. The king is dead (or at least last seen working in a Chip shop). Long live Ron Kavana.

Ron and his band of merry men and women take you for a ride on a musical rollercoaster which raises your spirits with jaunty tunes, done in Tex Mex, Cajun and even Irish styles, before plunging you into melancholy, not that you could stay that way for long when listening to this highly infectious album. One minute Ron and crew are playing "'19th Nervous Breakdown" on Uillean pipes and banjo in a marvellously irreverent version of the Stones classic, and the next they are into heavy electric blues with Ron taking the lead in true "Clapton" style. Ah, you can't beat a bit of the blues. Nor can you beat a bit of good old fashioned "Rock and Roll" which Ron gives us with pipes, fiddle, accordion and banjo all to the fore on "Fine, Fine, Fine". I said it was an innovative album!

This kind of musical hotch-potch is usually a recipe for disaster but here it is carried off with great aplomb. The main reason for that must go to the arrangements Ron has put together which are imaginative and packed with little asides which reveal themselves to you over several listenings. Most of which wouldn't be possible if the musicians weren't top notch, and those in the "Alias Band" most definately are. Miriam Kavana on fiddle, Rod Demick on Bass, Andy Martyn on accordion and Les Morgan on drums each provide moments to saviour and collectively produce the freshest sound I've heard this year and perhaps any year. The "Alias Band" get a helping hand from "guest" musicians Mick McAulay on accordion and whistle, and Tomas Lynch and Leonard Barry on Uillean pipes. May they live long and prosperous lives each and every one of them.

It is possible that my enthusiasm for this CD arises from it having a song mentioning the joys of pretending to be a Cowboy and firing "Cap Guns" when you were a kid. I know just what you mean, Ron! In "Cap-Gun Kid and the New Lee Highway Blues" Ron merges Country music, blues and a tune which sounds suspiciously like "Music For a Found Harmonium" and manages to get away with it. Throughout the CD Ron's gently authoritative voice manages to rise above the mayhem around it and proves deliciously listenable, with his low mellow tones.

Those mellow tones are put to great use on the Richard Thomson song "Galway To Graceland" which provides the undisputed highlight of the CD (some going given the quality of the other tracks). The gentle refrain and easy style of Ron's singing bring out the full tragedy of the song and stop the show completely. With "Are You Lonesome Tonight" on uillean pipe and accordion threaded through the track a masterpiece was born, and "Elvis" films are never going to be the same again. That the CD can recover from such a show stopper speaks volumes for the energy and vitality the band put into "New Rising Of the Moon" which soon gets the feet tapping again.

With fourteen tracks (six over five minutes long) and seventy minutes of wickedly different music, Ron is certainly not shortchanging anyone. So with a nod to every musical style in the western hemisphere (except perhaps opera - but I'm still looking) "Alias Ron Kavana" have produced a stunning "tour de force" which may point the way to the future of music in the "Global Village".

Quite simply beg, steal, borrow or even, if necessary, buy this album, it's that good.

Chris MacKenzie

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This album was reviewed in Issue 14 of The Living Tradition magazine.