The Paul McKenna Band: Stem the Tide

Paul McKenna sings like a cross between Seth Lakeman and Dick Gaughan. I wonder if he has taken some influence here. The band plays for all the world like The Boys of the Lough. Absolutely brilliant musicians I am sure. Believe me this band is very tight. So if you are a fan of modern Scottish Celtic music, this album will not disappoint you. The band was formed in 2006, and this is their second album. Already they have toured Canada and the U.S.A on ‘the big stage’ at festivals. This is not the sort of band that will play your average folk club.

The band are Paul McKenna, lead vocals and guitar; David McNee, mandolin and bouzouki; Sean Gray, flute, whistle and guitar; Ewan Baird, cajon and bodhran; and guest musician Conor McCaffrey, tenor banjo. 

Greentrax recordings have a reputation for bringing you the very best of Scottish traditional music. You almost immediately know what to expect from this label. This album is no exception. However, this brings me to my only small criticism. So many of these bands are now starting to play jigs and reels at break neck tempos with the same driving ‘Celtic rhythm’ backing on the bouzouki / guitar, a pity really. I have heard this over and over again. Sometimes the actual ‘tune’ is lost and I get the impression they are just showing off how fast they can play. If this is what you like, then this is an album for you. As a musician I always look for a bit of originality in the arrangements, not just copying someone else.

I’ll get off my soapbox now.

Having said that, the album is bloody good, so you can all prove me wrong by going out and buying the blessed thing. About 5 of the 13 tracks are traditional, plus a cover of ‘John Riley’ by Tim Obrien, and ‘Silent Majority’ written by the late Lionel McClelland. A dedication to Lionel McClelland is in the inset notes. Paul McKenna and Sean Gray wrote the balance of the material.

I was impressed by the way all the material, be it traditional, or contemporary, blended together in a traditional way. Paul and the band have found or arranged new tunes to traditional songs ‘The Mermaid’ and ‘The Banks of Newfoundland’. As to whether they work, I’ll leave it up to you to decide, the jury is still out!  Personally, I really liked the last track written and arranged by Paul, ‘Lionel’s Farwell’, dedicated to the memory of Lionel McCelland.

You can buy the album online here at the Music of Scotland.com.

(Greentrax Recordings, 2011)

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