Andrew Murray,
Hell or High Water
(White Cow, 2005)

What is the magic of music? Is it the lure of the familiar tune and the comfort of known tunes and phrases? Is it the ability to draw us in and help us imagine being somewhere other than in the music room, bar or concert hall?

In truth, it is a combination of all, some, few or none of these.

This album by Andrew Murray is a magical mixture of the old and new, the familiar and the innovative. The roll call of writers ranges from the traditional to the best of modern tunesmiths. All benefit from Murray's wonderful voice, which is the first thing to strike you here. There must be something in the water in the western portion of Ireland that blesses the performers. There is a hint of Sean Keane in Murray's sound, alongside a smidge of Sean Tyrrell.

The album opens with the marvelous "Castle Garden," a traditional song excellently sung. We then come up to date with the work of Richard Thompson on "The Poor Ditching Boy," one of the best songs on offer here. He gives a great performance on Tom Waits' "Old Shoes." The lyrics are spot on, and the delivery does not miss a beat.

"Lord Franklin" is one of the better-known tracks on here. It starts almost unaccompanied -- just that beautiful guitar. As he moves through this great story song the instrumentation grows and works brilliantly with concertina, cello and double bass, not immediately springing to mind on a folk song. The tune is probably better known as "McCafferty."

I must confess my ignorance in not having heard "Black Muddy River" before but I have made up for it now. This is one of those songs that properly performed can have you visualize that water. There is hardly a better song in the folk canon than "Green Grow the Laurels." It needs a strong, warm voice to give proper delivery on a tale of heartbreak and Murray has just the timbre to do it justice.

We all think ourselves familiar with "I Wish My Love Was a Red Red Rose." Listen to Murray for a very pleasant surprise. The final verse sounds very much like "Mary from Dungloe" transported to Dublin. Anyone who has ever had a bad day or a broken heart will identify with his rendition of "Slow Song," from the pen of Kevin Doherty.

This is a mesmerizing album, well packaged, expertly sung and with accompaniment that lifts the magical to the sublime.

by Nicky Rossiter
17 March 2006