Ben Sands,
Better Already
(Spring, 2003)

Anyone who appreciates contemporary Irish folk music must recall the seminal group, the Sands Family. The singer here, Ben Sands, is one of that prolific family group that saddened us when they dispersed -- but it was a blessing in disguise, because instead of a single group we acquired a number of excellent solo artists in Colum, Tommy and, of course, Ben.

Better Already is a beautiful collection of gentle songs, all from the pen and guitar of Ben Sands.

It opens with "Among Friends Again," and although it is years since I heard my first Sands Family record -- old cracking vinyl, no less -- it felt as if I had re-met an old friend. Ben paints a lovely picture of friends reunited.

"Writing a Song for You" is a typical Sands song. It has wit, compassion and that unnerving realism that only a writer can write about writing. "I'm laying down lines for you, running down rhymes for you, I'll finish what I've begun -- but God I'll be glad when it's done."

After a few jigs he returns in a more melancholy mood with a haunting tale in "Renovation." We get an epic tale of country life in "Fair Exchange." This is the Gone With the Wind of Ulster, with a lot more humour. In just over four minutes you will be drawn into tales of country life, matrimony and sex. "Seventeen months later and no babby [sic] in the cot" gives you the idea. Then he meets a tinker and the rest is history.

"Farewell to the Town" is another excellent instrumental track. The notes tell us that it was composed when Newry was raised from town to city status, hence the title. The track shows us Ben's virtuosity as a player as well as a composer and singer. If you hear this track alone you will purchase this CD and get 10 other tracks as a bonus.

"Wedding Daze" will make a fabulous song at any fun wedding ceremony. It recounts the whole process in a style reminiscent of Percy French. He has sound advice for the groom, "Go easy yourself on the juice of the barley, the mother-in-law will think much more of you if you keep your elbows out of her soup." Listen to "Hug" and keep a dry eye. I dare you.

This CD with a mixture of funny, poignant and insightful tracks will bring joy to any ear and heart. Treat yourself to a great gift. You get a marvelous album and Ben Sands will be encouraged to record more music, the world will be a better place, radio stations might come to their senses and play folk and a major label might see sense and sign up this genius.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 22 May 2004

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