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TOMMY SANDS "To Shorten The Winter" Green Linnet Records GLCD 1212

Tommy Sands does not know HOW to come up with a bland and colourless album. But that said, having listened closely to this CD all the way through on several occasions, I am forced to admit that I am left with a sense of disappointment. Perhaps, were he not such a compelling LIVE performer, one would not hold out such high expectations for his CDs: but he IS, and we DO. And this CD just leaves one feeling one's hunger FAR from sated. The album consists mainly of self-penned songs and, if it has a theme at all, it could possibly be said that it is a celebration of what UNITES the Irish people: and it's an album that particularly rejoices in the improved "Security" situation.

Whilst none of Tommy's songs really stood out for me, a couple of tracks really blew me away. Both were old favourites: but the first rarely heard in a Folk Club. A Whiter Shade of Pale always WAS, of course, high-class HOKUM. But wonderfully heady stuff, as performed by Procol Harum. Surely, they laid down the definitive version, some 35 years ago? Well, yes. That is what I always thought. Until I heard this. Lordy, Lordy! Instead of the organ break, you have Liam O'Flynn's uilleann pipes. Golly, you don't need to read the liner notes: as soon as he arrives on the scene, from the first note you just KNOW it is O'Flynn! His fingerprints are all over the place. His searing, soaring, authoritative sound, is like WHAT exactly? [Thinks] The nearest I can get to it is to liken it to the Parting of the Waves. Apocalyptic. And wondrous. And lo and behold, O'Flynn does it again just four tracks later with Raglan Road. I had thought it time for a moratorium on new recordings of this song, but this one proved that there is still new life to be gotten out of it. Not just the uilleann pipes, but also persuasive guitar accompaniment stand out here. (It's probably unfair to highlight just O'Flynn, for there are several eminent backing musicians who all do a fine job.)

Of Tommy's own songs, the best by some distance is The Mixed Marriage, a witty song highlighting the problems of marrying into the Other Tribe in Northern Ireland. On this, he is joined by Dolores Keane. One final note: I know not whether it was the typeface or the colours used in the liner notes, but gosh they were difficult to read at times. Dear Green Linnet: try black on white. For tiny print, it is an UNBEATABLE COMBINATION. As is, for making the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, Sands and O'Flynn.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 48 of The Living Tradition magazine.