Sean Tyrrell,
Man for Galway:
The Best of Sean Tyrrell

(ARC, 2004)

Subtitled "The Best of" and featuring Davy Spillane on uilleann pipes, this is an album that gives you what it promises -- and the best of this man is something to be reckoned with. Sean Tyrrell has a fantastic strong voice that you will recognise in any future recordings.

One aspect of his work that fascinates me is his distinctive take on songs that were made famous by others. Usually, our preconceptions stop us enjoying a new slant on a familiar tune, but Tyrrell will fix that.

This CD opens with a song called "Matty," which many will associate only with Christy Moore -- but listen to it anew from this artist.

A surprise inclusion is the old music hall standard "Side by Side" in an arrangement that takes it to a folk plateau. Usually the reverse happens, with a crooner taking a folk song and adding orchestration. "Isle of Inishfree" is a song that we all feel we have heard too often, but Tyrrell gives it a beautiful, heart-rending sound that will leave you wanting more.

Looking at track No. 7, I thought, "Oh no, not another rebel song." Listen to it yourself and be amazed. This is a great peace-and-love song that takes a tune and a title from an old song and re-invents it. "Let's be friends this New Year coming at the rising of the moon."

The title track, "Man for Galway," is an adaptation of a poem by Charles Lever taken from "1000 Years of Irish Poetry." Tyrrell tells us that it was originally a song that became a poem and is now a song again. Speaking of poems, Tyrrell has great love of poetry and constantly adapts poetic lines to music. On "Cap & Bells," he uses his music and words by W.B. Yeats to fashion another lovely song.

A poem that you will not often hear in school is that by James Fitzharris called "Skin the Goat." This is a fantastic "curse song" with lines like "may a horrid big rat chew a hole in your hat" and worse -- you may get the idea. It bears close listening as it uses some lovely if harsh language. He marries the song with a tune I can only recall as "Up the Leg of Her Drawers," but I'm sure it has a proper name.

He concludes a fantastic album with another poem set to music. This time he uses the lyrics of John Boyle O'Reilly for the lovely song "Cry of the Dreamer."

This is an excellent album, brimming with top-class titles delivered by a man who surely performs from the heart.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 30 October 2004

Sean Tyrrell is a noted Irish singer and performer who grew up in Galway, came to the U.S. and participated in the folk music scene as a session player and backup musician, and returned to Ireland, where he has written material for himself and other musicians and guested on a number of CDs, including Davy Spillane's The Shadow Hunter. (Spillane returns the favor on this album.) Tyrrell's first solo album, Cry of a Dreamer, was released in 1996 and was named "Folk Album of the Year" by Folk Roots Magazine in the U.K. Regrettably, Man for Galway does not fully support his reputation.

The highlights of this album are easily "John O'Dreams" and "Wild Mountain Thyme," in both of which the soft hoarseness of Tyrrell's voice imparts a depth and poignancy that are tremendously affecting. A close runner up is "Cap & Bells," one of Tyrrell's own settings of words by W.B. Yeats, in which Tyrrell's intricate work on the guitar, banjo and his signature mandocello, ably supported by Paul Dooley on harp, Fergus Feely on mandola and John Moloney on bodhran, provides a lighthearted background for a surprisingly serious song of unlikely love. "Marian's Song" is a quietly intense piece in which Tyrrell's voice takes on a soft throb in places that imparts a subtle drama to a song that, on the surface, professes no drama at all.

Tyrrell's voice, husky and flexible, has a quality that can make a good song into a great rendition; regrettably, his phrasing, particularly in the early tracks on this collection, often undercuts the music, and one could wish that his delivery were more fluid. As it stands, Tyrrell builds up an "amateurish" quality early on that may be meant to convey traditional performance but only succeeds in becoming an unattractive affectation, undercutting emphasis and ultimately destroying the shape of the songs. "Rising of the Moon," for example, a song with a great deal of intrinsic drama that should have a strong impact -- and might in the hands of a Pete Seeger or Joan Baez -- never quite develops the urgency it needs to be truly effective. The same goes for his rendering of an old standard, "Side by Side," that never achieves the happy-go-lucky insouciance of most other versions I've heard. Purists will no doubt take exception to these comments. The "traditional" part of traditional music is, indeed, very important, but to an audience that has grown progessively more sophisticated musically over past decades, bowing to tradition does not necessarily include revering its weak points. Tyrrell is quite obviously an artist capable of fluent, potent readings of his material, and that is a characteristic that could have been used to great effect more often in this collection.

Man for Galway is a mixed bag -- one is left wondering if it is a true reflection of Tyrrell's accomplishment. If so, the ultimate impression is one of uneasy cohabitation between traditional Irish music and a more popularly oriented form of folk music indigenous to the U.S. It is not an entirely happy arrangement.

- Rambles
written by Robert M. Tilendis
published 30 October 2004

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