If you’re looking for a chill out album for the New Year, Occupational Hazards from Ciaran Ryan Band won’t fit the bill. But if you want to blow away the Winter blues with some pounding instrumental Irish folk rock, this will be perfect. It’s good on the car stereo too, providing you resist any temptation to drive in time with the often furious tempo of the music!
Irish folk rock is a broadly accurate description of Ciaran Ryan’s music. It’s very much rooted in the Irish music he grew up with, and infused with a good dose of rock, but it doesn’t end there. Elements of pop, post-punk, funk, Americana, and electric dance music all feature on this album, giving it a fresh, contemporary feel.
Ciaran’s work over the past decade, notably as a founder member of Dalahan, has established him as one of our finest tenor banjo players. He also released a solo album – Banjaxed – in 2019, but Occupational Hazards is the first time he’s recorded with his live band, as Ciaran Ryan Band. And they are a quality line-up. Throughout, the top line is provided by Ciaran’s tenor banjo and Andrew Waites on accordion. The back line comes from the classic rock combination of guitar, bass, and drums. Ciaran also plays electric lead guitar, with Donald Hay on drums, Bevan Morris on bass, and Chris Waites on electric rhythm and acoustic guitars. Extra depth to the sound comes from Bevan and Andrew on electric keyboards. In particular, Andrew’s Hammond organ brings a distinctive element to several tracks.
Occupational Hazards has nine tracks, featuring a total of twenty-one melodies, eighteen of them composed by Ciaran. There are some great tunes, and the arrangement of the tracks is impressive. Throughout, the most sedate tune comes first, and the tempo increases as the track goes on. Repetitive sequences, with heavy percussion, work really well in building anticipation, while electric guitars cutting through as tracks reach their fastest points provide some thrilling moments.
First up is the title track, consisting of three tunes – ‘Preposterous Pig,’ ‘Out Yer Shell,’ and ‘Occupations Hazards.’ The track is solid Irish folk rock until the final tune, where a funky bass sequence introduces pop elements which intersperse with Celtic melodies. The Hammond organ makes its first appearance later in this track.
‘Wild Card’ has been released as the first single from the album. The first tune, ‘Bumpkin,’ has a jaunty, jazzy feel. ‘Wild Card,’ follows and is the rockiest so far, with a pounding electric guitar opening, before developing into a fast-paced Celtic dance.
‘The Shepherd’ is another track with two tunes. ‘Big Smoke’ has a sedate start, with heavy percussion, before the banjo and accordion take the lead and the pace quickens. ‘The Shepherd’ is a complex tune, starting with some nice bass playing while electric keyboards introduce an electric dance music feel, that mixes with Irish banjo.
On ‘Feckno,’ we’re back to three tunes. ‘Going Nowhere,’ is a gentler melody, with some good accordion playing, before things speed up on ‘The Cheese,’ underpinned by a strong bass line. The tempo goes up again for ‘Feckno,’ which opens with another fiery intervention from the electric guitar.
‘State of the Art’ consists of ‘Happy Camper,’ ‘Bad Apple’ and ‘Earshot. ‘Happy Camper’ has some great banjo playing and a definite hint of Americana.
‘Domesticated’ starts with ‘Slam Funk’ which, as its name suggests, is a funk infused tune, albeit with a prominent role for the tenor banjo, an instrument rarely associated with funk! That’s followed by ‘Shower Power,’ a quicker and more Irish sounding tune, with a good accordion sequence. The last tune, ‘John Riordan’s Heels,’ by Irish American fiddler (and former member of Cherish the Ladies) Winifred Horan, is a pulsating end to the track.
‘Brechin Bad,’ has a slightly wild and discordant feel. This pun on the name of a Scottish town is paired with a lively Irish jig, ‘Old John’s,’ the one traditional tune on Occupational Hazards.
‘Barbara’s’ is the only one tune track on the album. The lilting opening melody has a waltz like tempo. At times the guitar almost sounds like a steel guitar, and the Country/Americana feel, is further helped by inclusion of a piano (played by the album’s producer Duncan Lyall). The pace does pick up a little, but this track is still the gentlest and most reflective on the album.
The final track, ‘Plunk Rock,’ opens with ‘Shetland Turtle,’ composed by Breabach’s Calum MacCrimmon. It’s a fine, lively, and rhythmic Scottish tune, but surely this album deserves – and the track’s title suggests – a powerhouse finale. Well, this duly arrives as the Turtle gives way to ‘Funny Side Up,’ a fast and almost frenetic tune, with some frantic Hammond organ playing. A very fitting end to a very enjoyable album.
Occupational Hazards is a burst of joyous folk-rock energy. Ciaran’s tenor banjo playing is terrific, and shines throughout, but the musicianship of his four bandmates is also top quality. I’ve no doubt that Ciaran Ryan Band are cracking live act. Occupational Hazards will have a live launch at Celtic Connections on 26th January. I think that should be a great night.
Artists’ website: https://www.ciaranryanmusic.com/
‘Occupational Hazards’ – live: