From the first strains of the opening track “Plains Of Kildare” it’s clear that this is a special record. Dónal Lunny’s bouzouki, Andy Irvine’s mandolin and Paul Brady’s guitar lay down a rhythmic bed over which Irvine’s sturdy tenor vocals take turns with Kevin Burke’s fiddle in this very Irish reworking of the tale of the racehorse Stewball. Even over my laptop’s speakers (good as they are in comparison with older models, but still) the artful arrangement of instruments, vocals and intervening spaces float like a breeze over a sunny meadow; over headphones or full-sized stereo speakers this new remaster brings the musicians right into the room with you.
Compass Records Group is releasing a special edition CD and LP of Andy Irvine / Paul Brady, the first time an LP version of this classic album has been pressed since the 1970s. The ten track album was remastered from the original analog tapes, which were transferred at 192k/32 bit to maintain the highest resolution, and mastered for both CD and LP with the best combination of classic analog and state of the art digital equipment.
This self titled 1976 album from two young superstars (which came to be called “The Purple Album” by many) was one of the most influential records of the nascent Irish music revival. And not just with fellow Irish folk musicians. Over the past nearly half a century, the music Irvine and Brady created has been a favorite of iconic artists including Bob Dylan (who recorded Paul Brady’s arrangement of “Arthur McBride and The Sergeant”), Bono, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Liam O’Maonlai (Hothouse Flowers), and Lankum’s Radie Peat and Daragh Lynch.
Irvine and Brady were fresh from the breakup of their band Planxty, and just a few weeks earlier Lunny and Burke’s group The Bothy Band had cut what would become one of their most influential albums Old Hag You Have Killed Me at the very same rural Welsh studio where they now all gathered in August 1976.
With only 10 tracks, this album still feels packed with classic songs and tunes. Irvine sings lead on the opening “Plains Of Kildare” and Brady on the next, “Lough Erne Shore.” Both have non-traditional meters, influenced by Irvine’s recent travels in the Balkans and Lunny’s in Morocco. Both singers have a tenor range, Irvine’s a bit more earthy than Brady’s ethereal, bell-like tone, which he employs to such great effect on “Arthur McBride And The Sergeant.” (Dylan put this on his 1992 solo acoustic album Good As I Been to You as simply “Arthur McBride.” It was my introduction to the song and quickly became my favorite on the album, which, to me at least, began Dylan’s revival in the ’90s. Listtening to both it’s obvious that his came from Brady’s.)
The album consists mostly of songs, a lot of them ballads, but of course the playing on those songs is impeccable and engaging as the singing. I’m continually impressed by Brady’s guitar playing, which often mimmicks the little grace notes so common in Irish fiddling. Irvine sings the ballads “Bonny Woodhall” and “Autumn Gold,” while Brady sings “The Streets Of Derry” with a deceptively simple fingerpicked guitar accompaniment. He also sings the jig-time “The Jolly Soldier,” which here is paired with the fiddle tune “The Blarney Pilgrim,” which finds Burke’s fiddle line matched by harmonica, whistle and mandolin with Brady’s guitar providing the rhythmic and harmonic drive. The most impressive display of Brady’s playing is the flatpicking on the lone tune set. Just marvel at his work on “Fred Finn’s Reel,” which is paired with “Sailing Into Walpole’s Marsh,” a track that’s far too short for my taste.
The album wraps with a great song/tune set, “Martinmas Time” paired with “The Little Stack Of Wheat.” The song starts with about a half verse of a capella multipart harmony that I’d love to hear more of.
If you’re into good vinyl and also Irish music, this is a must. Both LP and CD come in fine packages and include a hefty book with a lengthy essay by noted music journalist Gareth Murphy, in which he tells the fascinating story of how the record came together. It also includes new interviews with Andy Irvine, Paul Brady, Dónal Lunny and Kevin Burke, as well as testimonials from artists including Glen Hansard, Liam O’Maonlai, Brian MacGloinn (Ye Vagabonds), Daragh Lynch (Lankum), Consuelo Nerea Breschi and Lucie Azconaga (Varo), PJ Curtis and more. Either way, this remaster sounds great and the LP or CD would be a worthy addition to the collection of any fan of Irish music.