Tuesday, 10 March 2015


CD Review

Songs of Exile, Love & Dissent

It would be very easy to make comparisons between Rich McMahon and Christy Moore and while it's true they do both sing cutting, thought-provoking and sharply observational lyrics and producer Gerry Diver has worked with them both, that's where the analogy ends.

Rich McMahon
McMahon sings from the heart and his songs are provided by his own or the lives of those around him to where anyone who has Irish heritage, be it as immigrants or as English born Irish, then sooner or later these songs will resonate.
The singer/songwriter was born in Coventry in the West Midlands to Irish parents and picked up on his music career relatively late in life.
At the centre of McMahon's thoughts in some of the songs, such as the opener Imagined Nation, is the question of identity. He offers up this dedication to his own imagined nation but never really states which nation it is.
And this is the crux of McMahon's "crisis" in that you can be one thing on the outside and your surroundings but on the inside your heart and your spirit can be in another nation. McMahon has a real honesty to his singing and uses the sounds of country, folk and busking to get his songs across and often has that raucousness of Dick Gaughan.
The Dissenters sounds like it's being pushed along by a one man band. But it also has that raw protest song style with the rasping Dylan-style harmonica as he sings about brotherhood.
This is followed by The Barman's Tale, a song about drink, its affects and how the demon booze can bring a mixed bunch of characters as the barman "watches idly by".
The one thing you have to get used to is McMahon's accent which swings from obvious Irish to more English sounding which could be him making the point of choosing your identity depending upon your situation.
My Beautiful Broken Guitar could almost be The Barman's Tale Pt II. It's a much lighter tale of a musician who's a bit worse for the gargle and puts his foot through his instrument. The tune is almost identical to Liverpool Lou/In My Liverpool Home.
It does smack of those saccharin pseudo religious country songs that crop up such as Drop Kick Me Jesus Through The Goalpost of Life. It's great fun though and even Mike Harding says he intends to learn it, so it's in good company.
Enjoying a drop of the black stuff McMahon
There is a similar theme to the opening track in Beyond Borders where there is a sense of looking for freedom to be who and what you want to be. The straightforward and fast-paced song does have this eerie string refrain mixed in which gives it a sinister feel.
McMahon goes back to the busker style for The Pearl which has a light tune but the words belie that with the singer seemingly drawing on his own experience of almost having a dual existence and overcoming a life-threatening illness. He seems to be saying running away from life gets you nowhere and that sooner or later you have to face up to reality.
It's appropriate that Inbetweenland is in the middle of the tracks because you can see it at the heart of McMahon's thoughts, musings and journey or self awareness. It has a simple almost military cadence to it crossed between something from Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. The refrain sums up McMahon's thoughts with "being neither one thing or the other, but something in between".
The songs are quite politically and socially charged but there is no sense of anger or bitterness in the lyrics and style, more of a questioning and genuine search for answers.
A Mother's Lament is a poignant migration ballad where McMahon has the sound of Finbar Furey where he tells the story so many Irish families have been through, in that their sons and daughters have left with the hope of making a new and better life only to end in tragedy.
Again what could almost be the second part of the previous song, Ten Thousand Miles From Dublin, is a socio-politically cutting song that is likely to be picked up by many more musicians. It has that kind of beat which makes you sit up and take notice even when the lyrics can feel uncomfortable to listen to. Beauty All Around is a gentle ballad which is juxtaposed with McMahon's harsher singing, but it is a song of hope; of better days; of times that will get better and there is always something to take joy in.
McMahon's new album
The penultimate track, Here, is a pretty slick and clever song about making a new life. McMahon creates a musical conflict both with the lyrics and the change of music. Where the new people are looking to start a new life but are facing the suspicion often associated with "interlopers" from the natives.
McMahon takes the album out with My Lost and Found another ballad with the strange musical strands he appears to like creating. It does seem to be a song of closure where McMahon has found a stability in his life if maybe not an answer to identity.
It's obvious McMahon has invested a lot of the personal into this album, whether it be his experience from the past or his looking to the future, but it is a down to earth, honest collection of songs which do have that irrepressible wit and particular way of looking at the world which seems to be second nature to the Irish.
It's essentially a chance to look at the world through McMahon's eyes and sometimes it's a very personal view and very much about the singer but also it's about us all as part of the bigger picture.

Songs of Exile, Love & Dissent is out now on the Knotted Oak label and available from the artist's website and usual download portals.

McMahon is playing at St Patrick's Festival Fringe, Custard Factory, Birmingham on Sunday March 15 at 1pm.
On the actual St Patrick's Day, March 17, McMahon will be playing O'Neill's Pub & Kitchen, Oxford at 9pm. The on Friday March 20 he is playing at Penn Bowling Club, Manor Road, Wolverhampton at 9pm, the following night on March 21 he is appearing Quatt Village Hall, Shropshire with  the Beyond Borders Show with Alex Vann. Show starts 7.30pm. The next day he will be playing an Irish Folk Set Patshull Park, Pattingham at 1pm. On Monday March 23 he is with Mad Jocks & Englishmen at the Warwick Folk Club, Warwick Arms Hotel, Warwick at 7.30pm and on Sunday March 29 he is playing at Flan O'Brien's, Walsall at 9pm.