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Private Label PMB002CD 

The Paul McKenna Band has made its name within the last decade as one of the most interesting cross-fertilisational outfits, superimposing Irish and Scottish styles and creating music which is both traditionally centred and uniquely different. In tune sets and vocal tracks the band has proved its ability to superimpose old and new with a profound understanding and agility.

We know the band itself to be creative and sensitive in its use of accompaniments to songs both traditional and self-written. This album differs from its previous recordings as Breathe only contains songs, but these songs breathe in an instrumental environment that backs Paul McKenna’s vocals with great aptitude, providing a body of work that’s both creatively cohesive and objectively sound as well.

Interestingly, the album combines both original songs and co-writes with Dave Gunning and Liz Stringer, along with one traditional song, Fanad Mare, which fits perfectly into the overall jigsaw. Elsewhere, the yearning quality of Never Seem To Leave extolls survival of a romantic fallout, and the title track moves more into pop-folk territory in the sensitive singer songwriter terrain. But it is balanced with musical nuances and supportive instrumental work that add to the poignancy and piquancy rather than detract from it. Particular mention should be made of Conal McDonagh’s pipes and flute and Conor Markey’s spooky electric guitar fills and dexterous mandolin, banjo and bouzouki work.

Breathe is a quality work, born equally of folk-pop contemporaneousness and traditional folk nuances and idioms. It’s an album to treasure.

John O’Regan


This review appeared in Issue 130 of The Living Tradition magazine