Thursday, 14 April 2016


CD Review

Paths That Wind

The Paul McKenna Band is celebrating it's 10th anniversary with this their fourth studio album, and if you are going to mark a milestone in your career you may as well do it with a standout album which this certainly is.

The Paul McKenna Band
It's difficult not to think of Dick Gaughan when you listen to McKenna. Although, his voice doesn't quite have the harder edge of Gaughan but more the softer refined style of Ewan McLennan. This is an album of McKenna's own arrangements and arrangements from the band which give them a new lease of life especially with track such as He Fades Away, where McKenna gives it a real empathy.
The album kicks off with a travelling song, Long Days which talks about the almost schizophrenic state of missing you home and roots but when returning missing the new found experiences, places and people you have discovered while away. It's wonderfully gentle and constructed using strands from Sean Gray and Conor Markey with Ewan Baird's rhythm keeping the travelling beat going along where you can almost see the band performing on a coach while travelling to yet another gig.
This is followed by Banks of the Moy which is a tribute to the unsung hero Michael Davitt who was a political activist. The band's arrangement of this tune certainly keeps the essence of the traditional composition but gives is a new and contemporary coat with Gray's blowing playing a great part in it's construction.
Mistaken Instrument is an instrumental triplet of Clariflute, Snorkel and Rosie. This is where album producer John McCusker, who is celebrating 25 years as a musician, gets a chunk of the limelight for what is a light and traditional set of tunes which leaps along like a spring lamb on a sunny April day.
In complete contrast He Fades Away is a poignant, sad and emotional ballad about former miners in Australia whose lives were cut short by industrial disease. In his arrangement of Alistair Hulett's song McKenna creates the atmosphere of men who should be enjoying their retirement but are too ill or dying because of working in dangerous conditions. There are such descriptive lyrics in this song such as "He fades away, a wheezing bag of bones lungs half clogged and full of clay." and "When the courts decide how much they owe him, how will he spend his money when he lies in and coughs his life away."  that you cannot fail to be moved by them.
Producer John McCusker
Tipping Point is a song McKenna wrote with Shannon Quinn and thumps in with a strong beat with Gray adding really colourful harmonies with the flute. The clipped style McKenna uses on the verses gives it a sense of urgency. Peggy Seeger composed Song of Choice and the arrangement of this song warning of the dangers of fascism opens with the brooding and ominous  sounds of McCusker on the harmonium. It then becomes almost a battle cry with McKenna hammering out the lyrics using his guitar as part strings and part percussion.
One More Time is one of McKenna's own compositions and does have a feel of an unplugged session. It is a very simple but effective ballad which McKenna executes with just his guitar and voice.
Inspired by yet another killing by American police, The Dream is about the murder of Freddie Gray which happened when the band were in the US. For such a heavy subject the music is never allowed to get mawkish but once again it's the lyrics which pack the punch.
The Greylag Geese was written by Jim Reid and the band's arrangement of it is laid back almost languorous. The strands of music paint a naturalistic image of wetlands and birds moving through the sky with ease.
The album goes out on a another triplet, this time from band member Gray. Dodging the Weather is composed of Baby Don't Weep, Dodging Lizards and Change in the Weather.
The fourth studio album
They certainly have that modern feel about them but keep their roots firmly in the traditional camp with the fiddle, whistle and guitar almost jostling for position with Markey throwing in little gems on the banjo.
Quite apart from the standard of the playing and strength of the arrangements, The Paul McKenna Band are among those musicians who believes the listener is mature enough to consume uncomfortable truths about the world and not just be entertained by something which is going to make you feel all warm and cosy.
In a world where so much is going wrong and injustice and inequality is rife we need more albums like this which draw people in with the quality of the music but then makes them sit up and take notice with the strength of their lyrics.

Paths That Wind is available now through download and from the band's website.

You can catch the band live on April 22 at Bishopton Folk Night, Bishopton, Renfrewshire. Doors open 7pm and tickets are £10 and £8. Then on April 29 they take to the stage at Biggar Corn Exchange, High Street, Biggar, South Lanarkshire. Show starts 8pm and tickets are £10.
The following night they pay Girvan Folk Festival, which runs from April 29 to May 1, where they will be on stage at the Girvan Academy from 7.30pm. For ticket prices and information see the festival website. The band then have two nights at the Moniaive Folk Festival, Moniaive on May 7 and 8 where they join Northern Harmony and Martin Simpson.

The Mike Harding Folk Show

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