Normally a liner cover such as the one depicted to the right would be enough to deter this reviewer from taking any further interest, since dolmens and sunsets are usually the province of albums including at least two of the words ’Celtic’, ‘haunting’, ‘soul’, ‘spirit’ or ‘Clannad’ in their titles. However, this case is rather different, although Seán might like to have a quiet word with his record company! A second gripe, of course, would be the reference to Davy Spillane (no offence to Davy), rather than any of the other musicians, such as Liam Lewis or Paul O’Driscoll, who appear on the album. Presumably, the Spillane name is believed to offer greater marketing opportunities. Then, next, there’s that odd ‘Man for Galway’ line. Is it supposed to be the album’s subtitle, because it appears nowhere else in the entire package? Indeed, the track to which it actually refers is actually Seán’s musical setting of Charles Lever’s poem ‘The Man for Galway’! Fourthly, there’s always praise for Arc’s multilingual liner notes (English, German, French and Spanish, though, oddly, not Italian), but said notes have been atrociously laid out, the designer eschewing paragraph indentation, and, unfortunately, have been penned by John O’Regan. So, there are the expected spelling mistakes (‘humerous’), strange phraseology (‘marking stone’ instead of “marker stone”) and a reference to Belladonna, released in 2002, as Seán’s ‘new CD’. Lastly, a sticker on the album’s jewel case indicates that the album contains ‘4 previously unreleased tracks’, but there’s no indication anywhere within the booklet as to which these are. Indeed, none of the album’s fourteen tracks are sourced.
If all of the above seems unfair, then bear in mind that this collection is supposed to be an introduction to the work of Seán Tyrrell for those who have never previously encountered him. Ultimately, such lapses offer an important singer a disservice and suggest a label prone to sloppiness.
However, that being said, the album does serve as a reasonable presentation of the man’s work and includes his best-known song interpretations, Mattie, Sweet Ballyvaughan, John o’ Dreams and The Rising of the Moon, plus, of course, the staggering Cry of a Dreamer, but, sadly, not The Host of the Air from Davy Spillane’s 1989 Tara album Shadow Hunter. Instead those ‘previously unreleased tracks’ include a rather lacklustre rendition of the old Cockney pub singalong Side By Side and a musical setting of some palpable nonsense by W.B. Yeats, Cap & Bells. Yet the high points well obscure these lapses. Seán’s voice remains that mystifying blend of fireside shadows and the richest of whiskeys. His playing and arrangements seem ever simple, but retain a complex subtlety and the overall standard of musicianship is impeccable and when the poetic settings work, as on Skin the Goat or Cry of a Dreamer, the impact lingers long afterwards.
If you can’t track down Seán’s albums, Cry of a Dreamer, The Orchard or Belladonna, then this might suffice for you, but bear in mind that each member of that threesome is a finely crafted affair which can never be replicated by a compilation such as this.
19th May, 2004