First of all, Amazon's description of the CD THE WHEELS OF LIFE would be improved with a list of the songs included; so, as listed on the back of the case, here it is:
1) Follow On
2) Talk to Me of Mendicino (w/Mary Black)
3) John Cook
4) The Broad Majestic Shannon
7) Phil Brown
8) Rooseville Fair (w/Gemma Hayes)
9) I Knew This Place
BONUS LIVE SET
10) Donal Og
11) The Last Thing on My Mind (w/Tom Paxton)
12) Catch the Wind (w/ Donovan)
Don't be put off by the seemingly few songs. The average song length is >4 minutes, so the total length of the CD is a respectable 50-52 minutes. And it is a really fine album. The first song is a Paul Brady tune that is also recorded on a DVD (also an import and only available from Ireland -- or so I have determined) that was recorded in New York July, 2008 (more on the DVD later on). I also heard Liam (accompanied by Kevin Evans and Paul Grant) perform this in Massachusetts in September, and of all three performances, I think this is the best. "Talk to Me of Mendicino" is a lovely song by Kate McGarrigle that becomes more enchanting each time I hear it (certainly aided by the duet singing). "John Cook" is one of those nautical ballads that Liam excels at. "The Broad Majestic Shannon," I think, is the immediate stand out of a cupped hand of jewels. To me, Liam Clancy is one of those rare performers who can take an ordinary song (or a very good one) and make it glisten. He does this with this Shane McGowan work that has been around since the early Pogue days. It is here at a slightly slower tempo than either the DVD or the live version I heard. I liked the live (guitars only accompaniment)best, but this one still shines. "Shenandoah" is the old favorite with the LC delivery that draws attention to the lyrics. "Ambletown" is a traditional song that is only familiar to me because some of the phrases appear in other sea songs, but it's put together in an attractive way that makes me want to hit the replay button. "Phil Brown -- The Painter" is the David Mallett song delivered like a poem over music. Too me, it is the only weak point on the album. I am familiar with the author's recording of it and like that, but then it was treated as a song, not a poem. Just as Bob Dylan's work doesn't hold up as well when simply recited, this one doesn't either. "Roseville Fair" has been recorded elsewhere by Liam, and I like this version (aided by the rich voice of young Gemma Hayes) better -- but I still think the song is best at a faster, country pace (e.g., Walt Michaels and his lovely Martin). "I Knew this Place" is also a Dave Mallett song that this time is sung (and enriched) by Liam's interpretation.
I'm glad the "live bonus tracks" were included. The first is "Donal Og" that the notes say is an Irish song translated by Frank O'Connor. It has that mesmorizing quality that reminds me of the earlier Clancy recording "Anach Cuain," although not nearly as somber. The last two are audio recordings taken from the July, 2008 Bitter End concert that has been mostly captured (but without a video of these two)on the outstanding (IMHO) DVD "LIAM CLANCY AND FRIENDS: LIVE AT THE BITTER END." That DVD (along with the 1992 concert video "YES . . . THOSE WERE THE DAYS") to my knowledge, is only available from Ireland but is well worth getting. (If I may hint --Maybe Amazon will arrange to carry them?)
Thirty-three bucks (Amazon's current [December 2008]charge)is a very high price to pay for any album. An Irish internet dealer is selling THE WHEELS OF LIFE a little cheaper (15 pounds) if you trust international dealing (I did, in order to get it sooner, and had no trouble and a quick delivery.). Bottom line is that if you are a fan of Liam's, even at $33, THE WHEELS OF LIFE is well worth it. It is not for nothing that Liam's last album (a career compilation) was the best selling folk album in Ireland (where the genre is still an area of hot sellers)in 2006.
As an added note of interest to fans, I learned from chatting briefly with Kevin Evans and Paul Grant after that Massachusetts concert that a little known 1990's CD called SHINE ON BRIGHTER (w/ Liam and Evans and Doherty)will be available again in the spring of 2009. I imagine that like it's earlier edition, you may have to send to Canada for it. I suggest Googling evansanddoherty.com for the latest news on availability. Again, it is well worth having, and my only regret was that I only learned about it last year.