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SAM KELLY & THE LOST BOYS - The Wishing Tree 

SAM KELLY & THE LOST BOYS - The Wishing Tree 
Pure Records PRCD71 

It’s four years since Sam’s last release, the justly acclaimed Pretty Peggy, on which his original Lost Boys ensemble was expanded to a seven-piece. Ciaran Algar has departed the line-up, but the instrumental complement remains fulsome, with increasingly accomplished, nay excellent use of the colours of banjo (Jamie Francis), cello (Graham Coe), button accordion (Archie Moss), flute/whistle/fiddle (Toby Shaer) and percussion (Evan Carson) in consort with Sam’s own considerable multi-instrumental skills. The Lost Boys also boast three fine vocalists (Sam, Jamie and Graham) who can do both forthright and tender so very well. Top-class musicianship goes hand in hand with an abundance of songwriting talent that shares a common vision: a respect for our heritage and a concern for its preservation tempered with a realisation of the issues involved, whereby inspiration and drive are derived from a solid determination and fiery exhortation is allied to a watchful awareness. It’s impossible to spot any weakness in the brilliantly constructed and pointed songs here, although Guiding Light, Chalk Line, Nature’s Law and Omens probably stand out most on first acquaintance.

A lot of thought has gone into The Wishing Tree; this is so very apparent throughout its constantly changing emotional landscape - both in the unerringly apposite vocal stylings and in the carefully controlled use of dynamics within a forward-thrusting overall sound-picture. Into the album’s striking succession of meaningful and thought-provoking original compositions we find inserted a small number of traditional songs, ranging from an animated Tinker’s Poteen (featuring guest uilleann pipes from Mike McGoldrick) to a beautifully poised account of the Jacobite homage song Mo Ghile Mear, a sensitive Banks Of The Sweet Dundee to a defiant See That My Grave Is Kept Clean (complete with a killer electric guitar solo that feeds the Zeppelin-esque Steal Fire, itself featuring some fearsome fiddle work).

Well worth the long wait, The Wishing Tree is truly invigorating, and forms both an immediately arresting and attention-retaining sequence.

David Kidman


This review appeared in Issue 141 of The Living Tradition magazine