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The next time you are in Amsterdam, pop into the Rijksmuseum. And go looking for two paintings. The first is a large canvas by Rembrandt. It is called Night Watch. You cannot miss it. When I was there, it was almost given star treatment. However the other, you will need to look for, and might easily miss. It is a very small painting: indeed it is less than one eighth the size of the Rembrandt. It is a favourite painting of mine by the Dutch master Joahannes Vermeer (1632-1675). The Milkmaid has the tiny dimensions of 17 7/8 in × 16 1/8 in.

Now both are clearly priceless masterpieces, which The Rijksmuseum will never sell, but here’s the thing: I will bet you they are both insured for similar mind-boggling sums. And the moral? Well simply that you don’t measure the quality of art by the square foot.

Which brings me to this CD by Maurice McGrath which just arrived on my desk for review. The first thing I noticed, was that its total playing time was just 29m 31s. But, remembering Vermeer, I refused to let my eyebrow be raised too long, and was determined to wish this album of self-penned songs by Dubliner McGrath the fairest of winds. And having played the songs three times, all the way through, what do I thus conclude?

Well, let us look on the upside first. There is one very impressive song, viz., Willy (sic) Clancy And The Pipes. I forecast that this will be Maurice’s signature song: it has a haunting quality to it, and his smooth soft vocals draw you inside it. It remembers how the great man once left Co Clare and lived for several years in North West London, and the song wonderfully inhabits the lives of those brave souls who came as labourers in the post-war years, and grew old still in their London bedsits and lodgings, as their old colleagues either died or had long ago returned home to the west of Ireland. It is redolent of Ralph McTell’s From Clare To Here, with every bit as singable a chorus. (I suggest though, if he has a second pressing of this CD, he changes the spelling to Willie, and also gets the order of tracks corrected in his liner notes, as it currently is at variance to the order on the disc itself!)

And the downside? Well, I have telegraphed it: the other seven tracks are very pleasant, cover some interesting aspects of Irish history, and are clearly well crafted. But unlike the Clancy one – which I went to bed last night, singing under my breath - they lack the ability to stay in one’s head.

So there you have it: Maurice McGrath is no Johannes Vermeer. But don’t be surprised: it was unfair of me to expect him to be.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 120 of The Living Tradition magazine.