“The Tinker’s Dream” – Chris Murphy

3 stars (out of 5)

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W138If I’m honest, I probably wouldn’t have sought out this album, but there’s a perverse enjoyment in stepping out of your comfort zone and finding out that the world hasn’t ended. The press release didn’t help by referring to Chris’s work as a revival of traditional fiddle music; it’s not so much a revival as someone carrying the torch to pass it on to the next runner. What Chris does, with style and impeccable technique is to create original tunes and songs based on (mainly) British and Irish folk styles with the occasional modern twist. He does a lot of it as well; this is his second album in three months. It’s music that’s created to make people dance, but the sheer quality of the playing and the strength of the melodies means that you don’t have to be whirling around a barn to feel its power. Be warned; it will make you tap your toes, at the very least.

The sleeve notes very helpfully identify the various dance forms each tune’s associated with so you can give yourself a little online lesson in Gaelic music (I did and I know the difference now between jigs, reels and hornpipes – I managed to work out the waltz for myself) while appreciating some truly outstanding ensemble playing featuring fiddle, mandolin, guitar, bodhran, flute, penny whistle and uilleann pipes. The three vocal pieces on the album are a pretty accurate summary of what this album is all about; “Wicklow” and “Cape Horn” have pastoral Irish and seafaring lyrical themes that are straight out of the folk tradition, while “Small Wonder” retains the traditional stylings with modern lyrical references. “Cape Horn” is a great example of the of the influence of Celtic music on modern styles; you can hear similarities to John Fogerty’s “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”, which was in turn influenced by traditional Celtic-infused early American music. There’s also a very slight nod to Chris’s Irish heritage with the beautiful lament “Gibraltar 1988”; if you don’t get the reference, just stick the title in a search engine.

This album is a fascinating combination of the traditional and the modern, with Chris Murphy’s fiddle taking centre stage as the ensemble creates a backdrop with their intricate melodic patterns. I might not be dancing, but I’m certainly listening.
“The Tinker’s Dream” is released in the UK on Teahouse Records (THR003) on Friday January 27th.