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DAVEY ARTHUR & CO. "Celtic Side Saddle"" Park Records PRKCD26

Davey Arthur's first solo (as such) album since his hugely successful stint with the Fureys opens promisingly with Russ Conway's 1959 pop Number 1 "Side Saddle" played as a full-tilt Irish dance tune! His sidekicks this time out are Anton McAuley (fiddle), Gregor Lowrey (accordion) and Noel Barrett (bass) with occasional guests including Phil Beer, Steve Knightly and Carole Cook whose beautiful backing vocals are desperately underused. The 5 tunes/sets are driven along with haste rather than speed by Arthur's underrated rapid-fire guitar/banjo/mandolin with the exception of the self-penned "The Walk" which meanders aimlessly rather than strides out and "Sister Marcella" in which melancholic accordion and fiddle meld seductively to great effect.

The songs are more of a mixed bag. Arthur's are still liable occasionally to fall into the stereotypical Irish cabaret folk which the Fureys were sometimes prone to; the tremulous banjo on "Euston Station" ("I miss auld Ireland ... ") being one culprit. The album is stronger on others' material such as Steve Knightly's "The Galway Farmer" and Jimmy McCarthy's "Mad Lady and Me" with its marvellously oblique lyrics.

And just how many new emigration songs does Irish folk really need? It may be a bedrock of the tradition, but 1990s versions are in danger of making characatures of that hard-won tradition; and 4 on one album?

Still, overall Davey flexes his musical muscles, producing a more diverse collection than he previously had the freedom to explore, but the muscles still need toning. Perhaps next time.

Kevin Cooper

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This album was reviewed in Issue 12 of The Living Tradition magazine.