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AK Records AK4

Andy Irvine has been visiting Australia for 30 years and always wanted to make an album there. Now he has. Not in Sydney’s fleshpots but in the Outback, in and around the wee South Australian town of Parachilna, between the Flinders Range and the desert. It was recorded live in schoolrooms, woolsheds and shearers’ quarters and the surprisingly cold nights were spent in bunkhouses or camping. There is a fitting simplicity to nearly all the 10 songs, but the recording is of studio quality. Andy was joined by sound recorder Ciaran Burke as well as friend and musical companion Rens van der Zalm who adds guitar, mandolin, fiddle and viola to Andy’s familiar bouzouki, mandola and harmonica.

Half of the songs come from Andy’s Irish repertoire. They include I Wish I Was In Belfast Town, a classic song of unrequited love learned from Joe Holmes and Len Graham; Braes Of Moneymore, a fine emigration song learned from Terry Devlin; and the standout Come To The Bower, a rebel song learned from Luke Kelly, which Andy thinks was a call to emigrants to return to support the Fenian Rising of 1867.

Perplexingly, I found the Irish songs were stronger overall than the Aussie ones, despite the recording location. Sergeant Small, a hobo tale from the 1930s, shows how soon a song can get a “traditional” tag. Outlaw Frank Gardiner is squeezed into a tricky 7/8 time. The late Alistair Hulett’s He Fades Away is a mournful song of a wife witnessing the slow death of an asbestos miner.

The album is coloured with Andy’s empathy with people on the margins – outsiders, outlaws, victims. We would expect no less from him. But the last song is a departure. Douglas Mawson is Andy’s almost operatic first person narrative of a heroic survivor - an Antarctic explorer, Yorkshire born but Aussie bred, who, after the death of his two companions, travelled alone for 160 kms with virtually no food to reach safety. It ends an enjoyable if slightly underpowered album on a roaring note.

Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 100 of The Living Tradition magazine.