Monday, November 01, 2010


Until about ten days ago I had no idea that Andy Irvine had a new record in the works, and now here it is, whisked over the seas from Ireland to drive away the oncoming November chill. Andy jokingly refers to Abocurragh as "the album of the century," meaning it's his first solo album since Way Out Yonder, which was recorded in 1999. Old friends are on board -- Dónal Lunny and Liam O'Flynn from Planxty, Bruce Molsky, Nikola Parov, and Rens van der Zalm from Mozaik -- but there are some new sounds in the mix this time (new to me at least), including Hardanger fiddler Annbjørg Lien and guitarist Lillebjørn Nilsen from Norway.

Andy's in fine mettle and voice and the selection of songs is a strong one, maybe his best solo set except the wonderful Rain on the Roof. There are no strictly instrumental tracks this time (three of the ballads segue into instrumentals), but as you would expect there's some great mandola and bouzouki playing by Andy and plenty of support from his mates on accordion, uilleann pipes, fiddle, and guitar, not to mention Nikola Parov on more exotic instruments like the nyckelharpa and kaval. No record from Andy would be complete without a couple of rousing songs about the Wobblies of the IWW, and this one has two, of which "The Spirit of Mother Jones" is more successful than the Balkan-flavored "Victory at Lawrence" (though the latter piqued my curiosity enough to induce me to dig out my copy of Bruce Watson's Bread and Roses). The heart of the album, though, is in the ballads, both original and traditional. Andy's got a wry sense of humor, so it's no surprise if the lyrics here stray a bit into unexpected territory, whether the eventual outcome is tragic or comic. (In both cases, there seems to be a common cautionary theme about the dangers of picking up strange women!)

The final cut, "Oslo / Norwegian Mazurka," is one of Abocurragh's best, with some delicious Hardanger fiddle by Annbjørg Lien and some earthy, off-kilter humor. The song narrates the events of an excursion through Norway some years back, after which, Andy says:
I was completely knackered when I got home to Ireland and decided to write a song about it. Unfortunately I could remember nothing, so this may or may not be true! No one will ever know.
True or not, the story is hilarious and provides Andy with a chance to spin some of his best lyrics:
In the Dubliner we played a gig, though we were all a bit hungover
A man got up and tried to dance a jig it looked more like a Bossa Nova
I had some beers and I began to flirt
And very soon I was on blonde alert
You're too late you know, thirty years or so,
she laughed and went home to her mammy
The song's best lines come later on, and concern the origin of clouds, but for that you'll have to buy the record.

Abocurragh, which is expertly produced by Dónal Lunny, is probably not available in stores in the US but can be ordered directly from Andy through his website or through various online sources.

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