Michael Snow,
The Rats & the Rosary
(Irish Eye, 2001)

Beg, steal, borrow or (preferably) buy this album. From its extremely attention-getting title to the final intriguing track, this is a treasure.

Michael Snow has one of the longer pedigrees that I have encountered since beginning my reviewing. His Liverpool Irish origins shine through in this selection of self-penned (sometimes in collaboration) songs. They reflect all that is good in modern song writing without falling into the trap of underestimating the intelligence of the listener.

Apparently Michael Snow is the writer of the well-known 1970s hit "Rosetta," which I fondly recall. But 30 years on he is producing even better material, which if given the exposure could eclipse that international hit.

The fabulous title "The Rats and the Rosary" is a line from that perennial of Celtic folk, the emigration song. In this case it is "Pride of America" and it is certainly a cut above the rest with its realistic resonance of America, which can only come from a writer who has lived there for decades, unlike some earlier tunes written by people still living at home.

My top track has to be "Mapmakers." This is 20th-century history in four minutes along with a very intelligent take on the reasons for war. The listener needs a little knowledge of the past to get the message from lines like "the corporal went home and planted some seeds" or "One crystal night on the streets of Berlin." However, even on the basic level this track is poetry and music combined for great effect.

"A Time to Kill" is a dramatic piece of music with some great lines -- "When killing time became a time to kill" -- think about how it is said. This song intrigues me. At first it seemed like a tale of The Troubles in Ireland, but the more I listen the more universal it sounds and the more it reflects modern urban life for so many.

The track "Liverpool Blues" is a catchy song of the emigrant, which I really like while, I think the "Sweet Cherry" is a very sly covert piece. "The Only Time I Really Feel Alive" may not be a favourite on ultra-conservative radio stations with its apparent condoning of drinking, loose living and being a performer, but for me it is another measure of Snow's insight into modern life. Granted, we should not encourage drinking to excess or the easy lifestyles depicted but we must accept that for some in our world they are "the only time I really feel alive," sad as that may be.

This CD is the middle section of a trilogy and I for one want very much to hear the other two albums and anything else from Michael Snow.

[ by Nicky Rossiter ]
Rambles: 22 September 2001

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