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Sony Music LC12723

If I asked you who – in the past ten years - was the most important writer of new, unashamedly political protest songs in these two islands that most of our TLT readership call home, what answer would you give me? The late flowering from the pen of the brilliant Leon Rosselson perhaps? Who can ever forget his stunning Talking Democracy Blues of 2010? Maybe Robb Johnson or Billy Bragg: both always ready to voice very sincere and committed opinion in their songs?

Yes of course, these are very strong candidates for the title. But I submit that they must all play second fiddle to a man from the Emerald Isle. And here dear reader, if – judging by the heading of this review - you think I am going to trot out the name of that genius born in 1945 in Prosperous, near Newbridge in County Kildare, you’d be absolutely ...wrong!

Not that Christy Moore cannot write great songs: I still think his Viva La Quinta/Quince Brigada as one of the top ten songs to come out of the Folk movement in our islands, since the Folk Revival of 60 years ago. That’s how magnificent that song is. And Christy has written several other fine songs down the years.

However, it is as a performer supreme that I will always regard him. In 2007, he was named as Ireland's greatest living musician in RTÉ's People of the Year Awards. Praise does not come higher. And at 71, he shows with this album that his powers are undimmed: even if his eyesight is not what it was, and he needs spectacles these days.

But no, he is not the answer to my question. The answer can be found on this CD though. For there is one towering song that frankly overshadows everything else on the album, but on this occasion that is not such a bad thing. (I will explain later.)

And the writer of that song? Well, he is a schoolteacher based in County Leitrim, but originally hailing from Letterkenny in Donegal. I refer of course to Mick Blake. His song writing goes back a few years now, and he has even since 2013 been performing them in public. Indeed it was early in that year that I first got to know of him, when someone sent me his stunningly brilliant song Mr Tepper, and I straightaway knew I was hearing a major new voice: and I sought out everything I could on Mr Blake.

So I was familiar with his magnum opus, Oblivious, before receiving this album for review. And of course, Christy really nails it: comes up with a glorious impassioned performance that brings two words to mind: hairs and neck. That husky Co Kildare twang has never moved me more. But something was wrong with it, and I quickly ascertained what. Seventy words were missing from the original.

And what powerful words they were! Yet Christy chose not to sing them. I probed and found that he stopped singing them because they “made some people feel uncomfortable”.

Eh, Christy? Surely you have spent your whole professional life working to the dictum: “You can't comfort the afflicted without afflicting the comfortable.”

Great job though he does with this track, I would still love to know the real reason why he pulled these excoriating lines from Mick’s original:

Imagine a nation where people are free/Not slaves to some gombeenman economy/Sold into bondage one ill fated September night./Where smooth talking sleeveens don't spin and pretend/Their promises not just a means to an end/And justice isn't what's "legal"/It's what is right./But the king of Islandeady/Echoes the cries of the clown/Heaps pain on the sick and needy/ To soften the Ice-maiden's frown/And we take it all lying down.

Yes, I realise that the ice maiden (Angela Merkel) has reinvented herself as a smiling warm-hearted Mother of all Refugees, but that is a minor thing. Islandeady’s most famous son, Enda Kenny, is still Taoiseach. And the aching injustices still remain.

So why pull those lines, Christy? Surely you are not getting soft in your senior years, are you? I don’t want to believe that the man who so bravely stood up for the Hunger Strikers when so many influential people south of the border aimed abuse at him for doing so, is now not wanting to step on some (probably gout-ridden) toes?! Don’t tell me you have been leaned on by people in power?

nd you could have done with those lines, because at 37 minutes total running time, you are at risk of seeming to be turning parsimony into an art form, and they’d have taken you nearer a minimum of 42 minutes that I expect, for me not to feel short-changed by a performer these days.

Okay, mini-rant over. Let’s look at the rest of the album. You will recall that I said earlier: “There is one towering song that frankly overshadows everything else on the album, but on this occasion that is not such a bad thing”. Now normally that would mean that it puts the remaining songs in the shade, and makes a CD seem a bit like when we used to buy the Melody Maker for just four pages! But not here. For here, the fiery glow of this astonishing song just helps light up the other nine tracks. And the album is helped by producer Declan Sinnott’s unmistakeable guitar: it just dazzles throughout.

Of the rest, the standout track just had to be John Spillane’s Ballad Of Patrick Murphy. I knew nothing of this most wicked murder of this Cork fisherman by a bailiff in the pay of The Crown, just over a century ago, and Spillane tells it well, and Christy sells it even better.

Christy’s reading of Peter Gabriel’s well-known song, Wallflower, is less persuasive, and adds nothing to the original. And I do not share his passion for Declan O’Rourke’s Lightning Bird Wind River Man. But both these songs – and the seven more successful others – bask in the benevolent righteous glow that Oblivious exudes over the whole album.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 115 of The Living Tradition magazine.