Following her own yellow brick road (judging by her choice of footwear) Sharon Shannon has chosen yet another…how shall we say ‘obscure’ bedfellow in utilising the services of the RTE Concert Orchestra. This possibly may not seem so odd if any of you have heard either of the two 1980’s James Last In Ireland recordings or Vladimir Cosma’s “Kidnapped” (my favourite record of all time!) where combining traditional instrumentation such as accordion with the lush sounds of a full orchestra projects the much maligned squeeze box to be the star attraction. Of course, in the hands of one as dextrous as Ms Shannon it goes without saying that she makes the recording come to life with sparkling arrangements wringing every last drop of ‘soul’ from those much used reeds. The passion and enjoyment of performing with such august company i s obvious and whether it’s the effervescent opening track “Top Dog Gaffo” or the sumptuous “April Magnolia” (composed by long time guitarist and collaborator Jim Murray) you cannot help but be impressed by a ‘folk’ musician conquering the ‘classical’ market without the likes of Bryn Terfel or Leslie Garrett to muck everything up. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to listen to Wallace & Gromit at the Proms!
No…not that John Paul Jones…the harmonica playing bluesman (!) but this one is, in nautical terms at least a legend none the less. His omnipresent personality was later to become established as ‘The Father Of The American Navy’ and although an exalted position, how did this gardener’s son from Scotland (a bit like Peter Sellers character Chauncey Gardiner in ‘Being There’ perhaps?) gain such an enviable and at times despised reputation? Well, that dear reader is established from this historical though not over scholarly document that was obviously a labour of love for Reid. To write a whole album’s worth (15 tracks) of material collaboratively with Rob Van Sante joined by various guest musicians based on one character might be regarded as a vanity project but I assure you, if you come along for the ride you’ll be justly rewarded. Much like Vladimir Cosma’s evocative musical score for the 1978 TV series “Kidnapped” Reid weaves an almost magical spell conjuring visions of brooding Scottish vista’s whilst just as easily slipping into a sense of joviality on the track “Landlord” and in my own way (envisaging film clips) I latch onto certain aspects of the storylines to propel the action forward. I can’t think of any better way to capture the mood of the piece other than by utilising predominantly ‘acoustic’ instrumentation including guitar, mandolin, viola, banjo, cello but could I be controversial in suggesting the lads put the lyrics on a page on their website along with a few background notes. I’ve always believed in the use of ‘folk opera’ such as Fairport’s “Babbacombe Lee” and Elecampagne’s “Adventures Of Mr Punch” to tutor the general public without being too heavy handed and if this recording is anything to go by it will sit very comfortably within that genre.