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Greentrax Recordings CDTRAX373

Elements is the third album in six years from The Paul McKenna Band – that’s a level of consistency admired by many and achieved by those with their shoulders to the collective wheels. The Paul McKenna Band story has been moving steadily on since their formation in the early 2000s, reaching mainstream adulation at the MG Alba Scots Trad Awards in 2009 on the release of their first album Between Two Worlds – Paul being awarded Best Up and Coming Artist. It’s been steadily uphill since then with a second album, Stem The Tide, in 2011, and now Elements.

Musically this is an occasion where the arrangements suit the song, framed around the singer. From that you can glean that the band works as a unit with their musical expertise supporting the distinctive voice of Paul McKenna. The song bag is neatly divided between original songs, Irish and Scots traditional material and more contemporary offerings.

The Irish emigrant song The Mickey Dam offers a good example of the support network between band and singer - each works in tandem and creates a piece that works beyond the realm of mere song and accompaniment. Paul’s vocals recall a young Dick Gaughan here and the spare opener Lonely Man offers another good example of restrained backing supporting a confident lead vocal. Elsewhere, Nic Jones’ Ruins By The Shore, Andy

Mitchell’s Indiana and the Irish ballad, Michael Hayes suit the underlying theme of emigration and emerge as three well entrusted story songs.

Musically the band can play tune sets too, like on Flying Through Flanders, while sterling instrumental flourishes dot through the song arrangements. Elements shows how well The Paul McKenna Band has achieved the balance between song service, instrumental flair and vocal expertise. It offers a template for merging balance and control in approach and arrangement and producing a high quality result.

John O'Regan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 97 of The Living Tradition magazine.