Dublin’s Niall Toner has been called the father of Irish bluegrass music. Certainly, his dedication to playing and preserving American folk and old time music has proven both a vocation and a calling card. Having played for four decades with many leading Irish and American bluegrass musicians including Bill Monroe, and presenting country music shows on RTE radio and Lite FM, Niall Toner’s name immediately commands respect.
Toner has also played with various string bands and country-rock bands including Hank Halfhead & The Rambling Turkeys, and now leads his own Niall Toner Band, playing mostly original bluegrass and country standards. An accomplished songwriter, he is a regular on the Nashville songwriters circuit. However, as regards solo recording, although this first album is credited to the Niall Toner Band There’s A Better Way is, amazingly enough, Toner’s first solo album in his long career. Backed by double bassist Dick Gladney and acoustic guitarist/vocalist Clem O’Brien, Toner and company deliver the goods.
Toner’s absorption in American country, folk, and bluegrass allows for a series of original songs that capture the best elements of the classic bluegrass genre. There are trains, broken hearts, and gospel affirmations a-plenty here but none of it sounds contrived or second hand. The songs are performed with an honesty and respect for the music and its subtle nuances. In short, the band’s heart is in the right place. The sprightly “Ocean of Teardrops” gallops along with typical high lonesome vitality belying a broken hearted lyric. Meanwhile, “Chainsaw Country Blues” travels along the trail, the songwriter trying to make a living, again rendered in straight up bluegrass fashion. Musically “Drunken Daisy” proves Toner a mean guitar picker. There’s A Better Way also possesses one of the cleanest sounding recordings to caress my ears in ages.
The Niall Toner Band turns in a rock-solid performance carried off with a quiet unassuming authority.