For many, Seán Tyrrell needs no introduction. From his work with Davy Spillane to his one man shows, and his prodigious career as a solo recording artist, Tyrrell is known as one of the great voices in traditional Irish music. Those unfamiliar with the man and his work, however, will want to better acquaint themselves with him by looking into his new album an excellent introduction to an artist whose ability to convey a song’s emotional depth is largely unmatched.
Taking its name from a poem by 19th century Dublin poet Charles Dawson Shanley, “The Walker of the Snow” is an album diverse in character but unified in direction. Tyrrell’s voice, of course, takes center stage; its raw “growl” both conveys the album’s thematic cues and complements well its tendency toward sparse, atmospheric arrangements. Tyrrell’s selections – some original, others taken from the traditional repertory, adapted from poetry or borrowed from songwriters outside the tradition – all revel in story and metaphor, often injected with a bracing (and disarming) directness that impels listeners to understand the messages in them.
The album’s musical arrangements are built on Tyrrell’s mandocello and tenor guitar, but many also include acoustic, electric & slide guitar, Hammond organ, and even synthesizer. With this palette of instruments, all the tracks are able to retain a sense of bardic familiarity typical of Tyrrell’s style, but it allows in an occasional folk-rock sensibility that moves the album beyond the typical borders of Irish traditional song.
For example, his version of the traditional “She Moves Through The Fair,” echoes Fairport Convention’s 1968 folk-rock recording in tone. However, Tyrrell’s unmistakable delivery and phrasing make the composition his own. The same can be said of his take on John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero,” a song that few can adapt effectively, but one on which Tyrrell excels.
Other tracks are more stark, both in sound and in subject matter. On both Tyrrell’s own “The Black Hole” and the traditional “Working Life Out” (a song sometimes associated with Martin Carthy), the singer accompanies himself on mandocello. The result is a “lonesome” sound, but one fitting for songs as ponderous and thematically challenging as these. Similar effect is achieved with a slightly larger arrangement in trio of songs adapted from poetic works, “Ringsend,” “Reading Gaol” and the album’s title track, each of which is a standout.
Instrumental tracks, including “Lark in the Morning” and “Raggad in Paris” add variety and are well executed, while others, like “You Are My Sunshine” and “On Top of Old Smokey” are given something of a north Clare makeover and make for a pleasant surprise.
Led by Tyrrell’s powerful voice, “The Walker of the Snow” is an excellent album that explores the corners of existential meaning. It will surely appeal to trad fans, especially those interested in ballads and vocal music, but Tyrrell’s style is hard to pin down and can therefore reach out across genres – hopefully, people “out there” will hear him.
It should be noted that that this album was financed through the fundit.ie crowd funding platform. Several weeks ago, I wrote about crowd funding’s value to independent artists, and I’m very pleased to see Tyrrell’s success with this model. This album (an idea which laid fallow for five years) is evidence of faith rewarded and should inspire others interested in exploring the new business of music.
Tyrrell is embarking on a fall tour of the United States starting September 7 and will visit Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York City, New Mexico and California. Visit www.seantyrrell.com for more information.