Patrick Street / Street Life
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Patrick Street
Street Life
Green Linnet

cd cover Just as I thought Patrick Street was perhaps reaching the end of the road - their last albums have included a 'greatest hits' and a live recording, their sound was beginning to be just a little formulaic and predictable, the spark was a little duller, they come out with Street Life.

The lineup stays steady with original members Kevin Burke (fiddle), Jackie Daly (accordion), and Andy Irvine (bouzouki, mandolin, harmonica and vocals) along with Ged Foley (guitar and vocals), on his 5th album with the band. The 10 tracks are evenly split between songs and instrumentals; and the mix in material - traditional and contemporary, well-known and lesser-heard - is also well-balanced.

But there are changes, especially in arrangement. Foley is featured as lead singer on two tracks (in the past, his vocals have been restricted to accompaniment), adding a new dimension. His warm tenor adds fine contrast to Irvine's lighter, more wistful leads.

Foley's first song is Dominic Madden's "If We Had Built a Wall," which compares the Berlin Wall with the invisible divide between the north and south of Ireland, and maintains Patrick Street's commitment to social comment. While Daly and Burke weave a punctuating line, another new element is added - that of a horn and cornet accompaniment by Cal Scott. (He is also featured on a couple of other tracks). Gay Dalzell also adds a harmony line to the chorus.

"The Diamantina Drover" opens with a bluesy guitar with bending notes, harmonica and then fiddle, before Foley takes up the story of a drover in Queensland, Australia. Dalzell returns to sing harmony and Daly anchors everything with his lonely chord accompaniment.

The other three songs are performed by Andy Irvine. There is a distinctive Patrick Street sound and it is presented in all its excellence on "Barna Hill": the picked guitar and bouzouki, the wailing fiddle, the drifting accordion, the echoing harmonica and, most of all, the plaintive voice of Irvine.

Irvine has always liked a 'good' American song, too - his interpretations of Woody Guthrie songs, for example, are beyond compare. "Down in Matewan" is his own composition and tells the story of a confrontation between coal miners and the bosses. The song has a distinctly Irish sound to it, but Matt McElroy's clawhammer banjo sets the scene in Appalachia. Bruce Molsky is the icing on the cake as he rounds out the track with his pounding fiddle and the occasional old timey yodeling cry on "Lost Indian" which ends the set.

The final song is "Green Grows the Laurel," from the singing of the late Luke Kelly and Al O'Donnell. This song of unrequited love is perfectly suited to Irvine's approach. Dalzell returns to add a harmony, matching Irvine's timbre to perfection, while the horn section also reappears with a throbbing counterpoint.

Patrick Street provides an instrumental cross-section of rhythms. From the opening set of jigs, through a set of reels, then later, hornpipes until the band hits a set of Kerry slides and polkas before ending the album with a jig and pair of reels.

Burke and Daly take solo lead lines, each allowing the other time and space to demonstrate their prowess as well as the possibilities and differences in sound of their instruments. They intersperse this with a unison approach in which they show a tightness and togetherness that can only come from years of enjoyment playing these tunes together. Their understanding and respect for each other helps create a delightful suspense and tension in the music.

And in many ways, that is the key to this album. There are feelings of togetherness and pleasure in all the performances on Street Life. There's not one moment where it would seem anyone is simply going through the actions. The arrangements have a diversity that allows the individual musicianship to come through, yet still maintain a distinctive group sound. The production, while clean and crisp, is warm and mellow.

On the one hand, there is no album by Patrick Street that I don't like. On the other, I tend to play the earlier ones much more frequently than the later releases. Street Life heralds a change. Time will tell, but I think they've possibly released a classic with this one. - Jamie O'Brien

The CD is available from cdRoots

Audio (c)(p)2002 Patrick Street/ Green Linnet, used with their permission

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