on 21 June 2004
Given that he is perhaps the greatest Irish-traditional musician alive, it shouldn't be difficult to get Paddy Keenan to record a great album: just sit him down in front of a microphone and tell him to play tunes for an hour. Sadly, it doesn't seem to be that simple.
If you're looking for a hit of high-octane dance music, this doesn't really deliver. Neither is there any great emotional intensity. Instead it's firmly in the 'folk lite' middle ground already occupied by most of Keenan's contemporaries. Many of the tunes, and one entire medley, have appeared on previous Keenan or Bothy Band releases. That's not necessarily a problem, since with a musician like this one of the joys is the way he reshapes tunes in the playing. Here, though, it contributes to a certain air of weariness - accentuated by some strange arrangements and listless production. One or two tracks definitely tip over the edge into 'ambient' or 'New Age'.
On this evidence, Tommy O'Sullivan is a competent accompanist (on guitar) and a decent singer; but the mix of trad instrumentals and contemporary, folkclub-style songs - common with pub acts - is an uneasy one on record. His Killing the Blues is, taken in isolation, one of the best things here; but tellingly, it doesn't feature Keenan at all, and it's hard to see how it could have.
It's left to the two oddly-appended 'bonus' tracks (bonus in relation to what?) to demonstrate what this album should have been about. Recorded live, they are urgent, exciting, tight-but-loose: everything you expect Keenan's music to be. And therein lies the key: this is the album of a stage act which, going into the studio, has lost focus. Next time, lads, make it a live set.