I first met Paul on a brisk fall evening in New York City in 2007. He was up from Virginia visiting a mutual friend of ours. We were both studying jazz guitar at the time and had much to talk about. Since then, we’ve had the pleasure of exploring much in tandem– delving deep into Hindustani music, swapping dusty volumes of Arthurian romances, sharing notes on the process of songwriting, before finally discovering the rich world of Irish, Scottish, and English ballads.
Let there be no mistake though– Paul has the utmost dedication and care for tradition. One of the common threads of his endeavors into these different worlds is his reverence for the masters and their work. He patiently studies, quietly toils, and reflects on his progress over time.
This album, comprised of both traditional and original material, represents a sort of arrival for Paul. It is a synthesis of aesthetic sensitivities, for each moment one spends caring for any aspect of music at all, their acuteness and understanding of music as a whole will be enriched. Steinbeck says, “Nothing good gets away.” And so this has been Paul’s path, and you can hear it readily in this collection of songs of tunes. He sings with both vulnerability and strength, plays firmly and dynamically, and the collection is deepened by a balance of heavy tales of the spiritual path with some very silly and light-hearted songs. Did I mention he plays every instrument on the album? I hope you enjoy the ripe fruits that Paul has grown and gathered in this basket.
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1. Lowlands of Holland
Until well into the 19th century, the Royal Navy relied on impressment as a means to crew its warships. That is to say, showing up at young men’s homes and taking them away, despite how the young men may feel about this form of recruitment. Such is the fate of the protagonist of this story, the poor lad. Paul has learned this from Dolores Keane’s recording, borrowing the last verse from Paddy Tunney.
2. Rain in the Desert
A song of Paul’s, and a fitting second track for our journey. The snake sheds its skin, the prodigal son departs, change pulls us through life whether we like it or not. A very pretty melody, too.
3. Willie o’ Winsbury
A pleasant rendition of the old chestnut. This version, despite its popularity, is not the “proper” Willie o’ Winsbury. The story has it that Andy Irvine was learning the piece out of a book and as he was learning the words, perhaps looking away for a moment, the wind sneakily blew one page over, giving him the tune to Fause Foodrage (Child 89), thus creating the Willie o’ Winsbury we know and love today. Is it true? Probably not, but it doesn’t need to be.
4. As I Roved Out
Also known as The Deluded Lover, this piece was first collected by Peter Kennedy and Sean O’Boyle in 1953 from the singing of Michael Gallagher, professional boot repairer, of Belleek, Fermanagh. He learned it from the singing of his Aunt Brigid in Ballintra, Donegal. The piece tells a sad story with a beautiful melody, leaving little wanting. Paul plays some very effective bowed psaltery in the distance.
5. Bitter Brew
Enjoy this one! The bitter brew– we’ve all had a sip or four of it. Applies as readily to the suds themselves as it does to politics, retaliation, etc. Written by Paul.
6. Bonnie Woodhall
Though perhaps we know it from Andy Irvine and Paul Brady, who learned it from Dick Gaughan, it was first published as Sweet Calder Burn in Bothy Songs and Ballads (1930) by John Ord. First recorded by Jimmy MacBeath of Banffshire, Scotland, by Seamus Ennis for the BBC. A beautiful tale of longing and loss.
7. I Made Friends With a Dragon
I believe it’s Matthew 7:6 where we learn “not to cast your pearls before dragons”. Something like that, anyway. Another one of Paul’s originals. It isn’t difficult to hear the influence of the Arthurian tales in this one. The song is followed by a tune of Paul’s, followed by Nell Fee’s. Dick Gaughan’s influence is quite audible in Paul’s guitar work.
8. Annachie Gordon
These old ballads remind me how good we’ve got it these days. Jeannie, our protagonist, is forced to marry against her will, for she loves another, Annachie, who is out at sea. When she refuses to share a bed with her new (wealthy) husband, her Father, the King, comes down and commands her to disrobe and get in the bed. She dies there on the spot from heartbreak. When Annachie gets back from his travels, he arrives to find Jeannie dead on the ground. He kisses her cold lips and dies immediately thereafter from his own heartbreak. Wow.
9. Youth Inclined to Ramble
Love’s Parting, or Jamie and Mary was published first in 1939 in Sam Henry’s weekly newspaper column in the Northern Constitution Newspaper in Coleraine, Co. Derry. We have Paul Brady to thank for this title and this version. A more amiable parting than in most of these stories.
10. Willow Haven
Another of Paul’s. He describes it as “a lot of images about inner work and delving into dark places in the psyche to find buried gold in understanding and knowledge with help of friends and fellow travelers.” The journey continues.
11. Jock O’Hazeldean
This beautiful ballad is not easy to sing, yet Paul delivers it to us with a sensitivity and strength that bring Dick Gaughan’s crushing rendition to mind. The ballad itself was actually written by Sir Walter Scott, based on the earlier John o’ Hazelgreen.
12. Singing to You
Paul’s closing statements, “about the importance of ‘singing’ to keep calling love and romance to visit your life and your relationships.”
Featured Review in Style Weekly by Paul Spencer