Tommy Sands’ To Shorten The Winter

cover art for To Shorten The WinterNo’am Newman wrote this review.

This album is subtitled “An Irish Christmas with Tommy Sands,” and most of the disc’s 13 songs revolve vaguely around the Christmas theme of peace and joy, etc. In the case of some of the songs, the connection is somewhat strained, but never mind.

So far as I can figure out, this is the sixth solo album by Tommy, who used to be part of the Sands family troupe which toured around the world in the late seventies, and whose career (the family’s, not Tommy) was suddenly curtailed by the death of his brother Eugene. His lyrics have been highly praised, and apparently a few of his songs are to be found in the English school curriculum in Germany, which is indeed a compliment. More biographical details can be found at Tommy’s web site.

This disc presents 55 minutes of attractively presented songs, led by Sands’ warm tenor, and accompanied by a sympathetic backing of guitars, organ, pipes and percussion. It’s a competent noise that is relaxing to listen to, but doesn’t force itself upon the listener – faint but damning praise. This disc can function as more than adequate background music, but there’s no one song which makes the listener sit up and say “Wow, that was a great song!”

There is actually one song where the observant listener will recognise the tune that the Uillean pipes are playing – “A Whiter Shade Of Pale.” Whilst the piping provides an interesting commentary on “this dreamy little gem of Sixties surrealism” (to quote Sands’ sleeve notes), the vocal parts of the song sound more like a mockery of the scene in “The Commitments” where this song is played. The open lines are less sung than spoken in a strong Irish accent, and I found this track to be slightly annoying because of its familiarity.

There’s also a cheeky duet with Dolores Keane entitled “The Mixed Marriage,” which has such whimsical lyrics as “We’ll get married then/When Santa Claus shaves off his whiskers/We’ll get married then/When the Pope allows divorce/We’ll get married then.” The arrangement hints at country music and shows definite signs of the musicians being interested in creating a complete sound picture as opposed to simply accompanying the tune – the playout includes Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” played on violin, complete with sleigh bells.

The 16 page booklet provides full lyrics as well as notes about the songs (how they came to be written or chosen for this disc). There are also several family pictures, most of which are uncaptioned (the credits list them as coming from Sands’ private collection) and which add to the Christmas atmosphere that the album is trying to create. Unfortunately, the songs don’t strain themselves in adding to this illusion, and so the result is simply a collection of nice songs that are pleasant to hear and easy on the ear.

(Green Linnet, 2001)

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