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TOM ACTON - Down The Irish Gravel Road

TOM ACTON - Down The Irish Gravel Road
New Folk Records  NFR4108

Dublin-born Tom is a singer-songwriter and published poet who has been playing music for over twenty years either solo or in a duo or full band. His debut CD, Dark River Tumbling, was released back in 2004, but it never came my way so I can’t make any comparisons with this, his second album, which bears a 2009 publication date (a third album is likely to appear towards the end of this year, according to the biog supplied).

On the evidence of Down The Irish Gravel Road, Tom’s writing conveys a warm and natural affinity with Ireland and its rich cultural heritage. He finds specific inspiration in its personalities – writers such as W.B. Yeats (whose life and poetry directly inspired two of the album’s songs, Sligo Fair and Northern Girl), the 18th century playwright and poet Richard Brinsley Sheridan (subject of an affectionate homage-cum-toast Here’s To…) through to musicians such as Johnny Doran, one of the last of the travelling pipes players (subject of a tribute song that here is melded to a rendition of one of his favourite tunes, Guy Roelefs’ The Road Up Ahead). Another of Tom’s strongest suits is his ability to convey in simple, spacious imagery and intuitive language his keen rapport with the Irish sensibility; he finds poetry in the everyday, and he evidently appreciates finding positive elements in this turbulent world (Beyond The River), also valuing one’s occasional ability to escape from city life (The West Hills).

Other songs derive their inspiration from special places Tom has visited: Lissadell is a tender love song set on the strands of Co. Sligo, whereas The Water Song was written after a visit to Avoca in Co. Wicklow. Musically, Tom’s songs, seemingly effortlessly, draw on the rich and vibrant contours of Irish traditional music (for instance, Here’s To… takes the form of a lively jig, while the lilt and rhythm of Cobh Town seems to reference The Star Of The County Down).

For instrumental accompaniment, Tom is fortunate to be able to call on a team of talented musicians comprising Steafan Hannigan, Guy Roelofs, Ad Vermeer, Rudy Velghe, Raquel Gigot, Jenny Van Diggelen, Jasmijn Scholtens and Ruben Van Boven, with Annemiek Van De Padt on backing vocals. All in all, it’s impossible to resist the gentle charm and immediate appeal of Tom’s music, and the discerning listener who appreciates pleasingly unassuming songwriting craft should find this a record worth tracking down.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 90 of The Living Tradition magazine.