The Makem &
Spain Brothers,
(Red Biddy, 2006)

Even without looking at the names of the artists represented here, the first few lines sung would inform you of the Keady connection. But this band does not need to trade on its pedigree. These lads sing with passion and gusto and an infectious love of the material.

Remember those early days when excellent folk bands consisted of a few guitars, banjos and maybe a bodhran? There is nothing wrong with the sounds that later emerged with more exotic instruments, but when you listen to this band you fully realize what we had in the day. Of course, the instruments are useless without some good strong vocalists, and the combined Makem and Spain clans certainly provide that.

From "Highland Paddy" onwards, you will believe that you are at the live gig -- and that is not an easy feat. Listen to "Mingulay Boat Song" and I defy you not to sway with the sound. It is one of those songs that can transport you to that boat approaching its harbour in bright sunlight and you want to sing along -- as the audience does on the album.

Another joy of a CD like this is discovering new songs such as "New South Wales" and "Whiskey Row." The latter comes from the pens of Makem and Spain and bodes very well for the group and the future of folk music. This confidence in writing and performing is consolidated with two other tracks here. "When We Danced in Donegal," written by Conor Makem, could be a major hit if promoted as a single, while "Calling Me Home" from Mickey Spain is a great track.

Even older material gains new life when these strong harmonious voices give full vent to it. "The Smuggler" is a case in point, as is the wonderful sea shanty "Congo River."

This is an album that must be heard to be believed. It manages to bring the great sounds of the ballad boom right into the 21st century without losing a beat, but adding something new. I look forward to the next outing.

by Nicky Rossiter
16 September 2006

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