I am somewhat at a loss as to how to summarise Hunger Of The Skin which is a difficult position for a reviewer to be in. Let me try to explain. It’s nominally a solo album and it’s true that Brian Finnegan wrote most of the music and his flutes and whistles are the lead instruments throughout. But multi-instrumentalist and co-producer Seán Óg Graham plays more than just a supporting role and there are a couple of dozen distinguished guests including Patsy Reid, Sarah Allen, Ed Boyd, Colum Sands and Jenn Butterworth.
The opening track, ‘Dust/An Damhsa Dubh’, comes in like a whirlwind, largely due to Liam Bradley’s drums and percussion. The words Treacherous Orchestra sprang immediately to mind. ‘Dust’ is a poem by Gearóid Mac Lochlainn, spoken by the author interspersed with Brian’s tune and this is a pattern repeated several times across the album. It’s all very imaginative and in his notes Brian describes a writing process that seemed to be out of his control. There is a wildness about the music – even on a track like ‘Chase The Shouting Wind’ which begins with a strummed acoustic guitar but quickly takes off into the stratosphere before suddenly changing tack with Sheema Mukherjee’s sitar and vocals doing something new.
My favourite track is probably ‘Flow, In The Year Of Wu Wei’. Wu Wei means doing nothing and, knowing that, the title makes sense. It’s a stunning virtuoso performance by Brian with an arrangement by him, Graham and Bradley. Following that is the complete contrast of ‘Two Trees’ which opens with Ashley Hoyer’s mandolin before Brian takes off with a glorious sweeping melody. Tony Donnelly’s voice appears reminiscing but it’s a little difficult to make out exactly what he’s saying which is a shame. ‘Trigger’s Lament/Jig For Amélie/Red Planet Blues’ follows the “traditional” model of a tune set and then ‘Equator Light’ sweeps in like the wind off the desert. Finally, we have Morna Finnegan’s poem ‘Dare’ accompanied by little more than drones. It’s a powerful piece to end with.
Hunger Of The Skin can’t be summed up with a couple of pithy comments and it would be wrong to try. I will, however, commend it to your attention as a marvellous example of what music can do.
Artist’s website: https://www.brianfinneganmusic.com
‘Flow, In The Year Of Wu Wei’ – official video:
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