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Dara Records  TORTVCD1191

It is over 40 years since I first saw Finbar Furey in live performance.  In those days he performed as a duo, with his brother Eddie.  I have retained a soft spot for him ever since.

True, he had disappeared from my radar a bit of late, so I was really pleased to get this new CD of his for review.  The accompanying promotional material really whetted my appetite with this description: “This album represents a departure of sorts for Finbar from his early folk days to a more contemporary, raw and emotional style, determined, irresistibly intriguing and reflective and re-affirms his status as one of our great folk heroes”.

But, “whetted” or not, I’ve been around long enough to know that fine words butter no parsnips, and that occasionally the end result falls far short of the rhetoric.  So what was going to happen here?  Would it end in delight, or disappointment?

The truth is that after five complete plays of the CD, the jury is still out for me.  One thing for sure, there is a lot to like here alright.

Basically it is a mixture of his delivery of the self-penned and his “interpretation” of some Folk classics.  Now as for the latter, I will try and draw a veil over them.  

Oh, don’t wilfully misunderstand me: there is nothing wrong with them per se.  But his versions of Ewan MacColl’s School Days Over, Donovan’s Colours, Dylan’s Blowin’ In The Wind, and Banjo Paterson’s (note spelling please liner notes editor!) Waltzing Matilda, are decent enough in their way, but they are COVERS rather than “interpretations”.  If only Finbar could have given us HIS take on those songs, instead of singing them note-for-note like the originals.

But enough of my nit picking.  Where this album delivers – and delivers in spades – is in the area of his own compositions.  His opening track After Sunday Mass, sets a high benchmark with its sweet, yet non-cloying nostalgia.  And his own songs never fail to impress all the way through to the high-water mark on this CD: track 13, his touching song The Ballad For George Best, with its ever-so-singable refrain.

Mary Black and Shayne Ward join Finbar on a track each.  The production is by the illustrious Bill Shanley, and needless to say, it is up to his usual impeccable standards.

Before closing this review, there is one non-Finbar song that he really gets to grip with.  And that is Phil Coulter’s The Old Man.  If you wonder why Finbar succeeds triumphantly here, wonder no more, for it is a song written about the late Ted Furey, Finbar’s father.  So needless to say, Finbar positively INHABITS this moving song of loss, in a way that one would have hoped he could have grabbed hold of the Folk standards/classics mentioned above.  But hey, maybe the delivery of those songs are so “set in stone” by now, that they cannot be “interpreted” by anyone anymore!

So to sum up: an album with many more plusses than minuses, and worth purchasing, not least for the delight in hearing such a spectacularly glorious unadulterated Irish accent given full rein.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 92 of The Living Tradition magazine.