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SEAN TYRRELL "The Orchard" LMCD002

As a live act Sean Tyrrell is second to none in communicating a song to his audience. He has a powerful voice with just a touch of gravel, and the emphasis is always on getting the words of the song over, rather than on any fancy decoration. How does this direct approach survive a recording studio with a cast of thousands of backing musicians and singers (well, over twenty-five anyway)? Thankfully the answer is pretty well ...

Sean and co-producer Davy Spillane never let the backing mask the message of the words, even when the backing includes a wailing soprano sax as it does (very effectively) on "One Eye Open". (The six tracks starting with this song really are worth the whole price of the whole CD on their own for me.) In complete contrast is Yeats' "Song of Wandering Aengus", which shows Sean's ability to sing with tenderness without falling into the trap of letting the words sound twee - which they can in other hands. This follows seamlessly into a set of hornpipes, with Sean adopting the slow mellow Clare style on his mandola ably backed by Josephine Marsh - probably my favourite accordion player in this style. Then two other powerful songs, Liam Weldon's "Dark Horse of the Wind" - on the tragedy of struggles for liberty ending up in people killing their own, and "Game Over", on the destruction of the environment, with ironic refrains of "whale away boys", "burn away boys". On both songs Davy Spillane adds his inimitable low whistle playing. I could have done without the occasional use of instrumental sound effects linked to the words of the songs - Sean doesn't need these effects to paint the picture - but this is a pretty minor criticism.

If you want relief from the more intense songs there is plenty of variety. "Skin the Goat" is a classic catalogue of comic curses like "may a hairy baboon jump out of the moon". The title song, "The Orchard" linking the singers lifetime to experiences in the orchard by his home, tends to the sentimental ballad, but avoids going over the top. For his instrumental work Sean uses various members of the mandolin family, but with single strings rather than pairs, giving a mellower sound shown to particularly good effect on the final two instrumental tracks.

The Orchard was voted best folk album of 1998 in an Irish Music magazine readers' poll. Presumably it kept finding its way into their CD players the way it does into mine. If you like good honest straightforward Irish singing with a traditional feel, even if most of the songs aren't actually traditional, I can thoroughly recommend it.

Richard Brown

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This album was reviewed in Issue 33 of The Living Tradition magazine.