Eamon Friel,
The Waltz of the Years
(Thran, 2003)

This is the full album by Eamon Friel but he uses the same title as he did on the four-track CD of last year just to confuse us. I sincerely hope it does not lead too many people into thinking that they already possess the "full monty" as presented here. Even if you were smart enough to get that release, hunt this one down, it is a gem.

Friel is one of the best singer-songwriters, especially of the gentle and heartfelt ballad variety. His lyrics are beautiful and at times very witty. His music is lovely and in no way intrusive. His sense of time and place is instinctive. In short, he impresses.

Some of the tracks on this CD were reviewed on the release of the four-track so I will concentrate on the new material.

The unusually titled "The Songthrush and the Wren" uses an old Irish method of putting the observations of people or events into the mouths of birds or animals. It is conversational song as the birds debate the future of two lovers observed beneath the trees. It is at times comic but also biting, particularly in the verse asking, "Could one of these lovebirds be more hawk than dove?" The verse ends with a truism: "Aren't they so sanctimonious, where is the laughter of love?"

"The Electric Light" is a wonderful song recalling the coming of electric power to a rural area -- a phenomenon that happened as government policy a half century ago in Ireland. It is an excellent piece of social history as the singer wonders if that event changed life in more ways than offering light and heat. He recalls the fairies, the storytelling and the card games that drew neighbours together in a way now seen as old history. The track ends surprisingly with a lovely instrumental session recalling the boisterous ceili bands of a bygone time.

"And October Turned to Gold" is title that foretells the lyrical beauty of this particular track. The simple backing is an inspired addition, not obscuring Friel's gentle voice.

Friel has a way of combining old fairy tale-type songs with others that remind us of the recent past. He brings us back to sayings and events that can recall our childhood. "Not as We Know It" takes its tag line from Scotty on Star Trek. The substance of the song is about how life has changed in a short lifetime. He laments that in this age of communication and information, so many fail to learn or communicate. "The less you know the better, make your mind a wall, when's the last time you heard someone quote a poet, when's the last you heard anyone quote anything at all?" He puts it in context with a lovely line, "Yesterday they told me I'd been living in the sixties, says I you're right I lived there for 10 years."

The first time I heard Friel was on a compilation CD some years ago when he contributed a track called "Yanks" recalling how we were influenced by the USA in the '60s. He comes full circle on the final track of this CD with a comical piece titled "My Brother's Turned into a Yank." I don't know how this will translate across the Atlantic but it captures the very essence of the returned Irish person -- no matter how short the trip. "Only out in the States two wet weeks with his mates, Hi, Howdy Do, Holy cow, yes sir he's an American now." The song is a worthy closing track to a great new CD as in the last, very Irish lines as the brother asks his father for "eggs over easy now Paw and my Da says you're getting them raw."

This is a top-class CD for anyone who like good music, intelligent lyrics and a gentle delivery. Singers will find a mine of material here to perform and interpret.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 21 June 2003

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