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Best of the Year Gone By

By Mike Farragher irishwriter@optonline.net

HAPPY New Year! 2005 was another busy year for Irish rock music. In the event that you were too busy trying to score U2 tickets to tune in, here are the highlights.

10. Colm O’Brien — It Is What It Is.

With the Prodigals taking a turn down a poppy road after O’Brien’s departure, this Dubliner provides jig punk fans with a CD that offers an opposing musical viewpoint of Irish music that is heavy on the same snarl that put the Prodigals on the map in the first place.

O’Brien seamlessly welds some of his great acoustic compositions with traditional tunes. and it’s sometimes difficult to separate the old songs from the new ones, a testament to his great songwriting. He possesses a gloriously ragged voice that sounds like he gargled with the stale beer and cigarette butts that were swept off the floor of the many Boston area pubs that he calls home. Log onto www.cdfreedom.com to get your copy of this modern Irish folk classic.

9. The Frames — Burn the Maps.

Glen Hansard and the boys continue their love affair with the alt-rock gods the Pixies, creating the same tense dynamic of gentle acoustics and sudden outbursts of feedback. Tracks like “Fake” might rock hard, but the gorgeous acoustic ballads like “Locusts” and “Suffer in Silence” show Hansard’s immense growth as a songwriter. Their tour with Mark Geary earlier this summer provided the musical moment of the year for countless Irish rock fans.

8. Van Morrison — Magic Time.

It’s aptly named; the collection finds the Belfast legend immersed in the cool waters of jazz and blues. “Celtic New Year” and “The Lion This Time” are as good as anything he did in the 1970s, though we could do without songs about needing his privacy. “Just Like Greta,” is yet another attack on the prying media, which is the only yawner on this otherwise vibrant disc.

7. AfroCelt Sound System — Anatomic.

These world beat masters have been mixing world percussion with traditional Irish melodies for over a decade, yet this enthralling global melting pot hasn’t lost one bit of flavor. Cork poet/singer Iarla O’Lionaird’s gorgeous prose on “Beautiful Rain” is amplified by the electronic stormy textures underneath. The epic “Mojave” blends uilleann pipes, relentless tribal percussion and feisty electronic blips for an unforgettable joy ride in your headphones. Famed fiddler Eileen Ivers joins the band on some tracks, staking a decisively Irish vibe in a band that is sounding more global than African or Celtic.

6. The Corrs — Home.

Ireland’s most gorgeous family return to their roots, interpreting traditional ditties like “Black Is the Colour” with their trademark pop sensibilities. They nail Phil Lynott’s “Old Town,” im-proving on the original with an Abbey Road production value, giving it a classic Beatlesque feel. A huge seller in Europe, this

CD has yet to be released in the U.S. Try Amazon.com’s U.K. site to pick this up; you’ll be glad you did. This is the Corrs’ finest hour.

5. The Radio — The Radio.

The dreamy, nursery rhyme poetry, layered atop a lush orchestral pop landscape, made for a contact high through your speakers that is the musical equivalent of eating a hash brownie at a Phish concert. They shamelessly borrow the best bits from Beach Boy harmonies, Mamas and Papas So-Cal vibrations, and REM modern rock power chords to create an infectious electro-hippie moment. The disc was only available in the States if you went to one of their live shows, but logging onto www.theradio.ie will get you onto their independent Dublin record company.

4. Ronan Tynan — Ronan.

I know, I know. Nothing is more further away from rock and roll like this famed tenor, but few discs moved me spiritually more than this one. His majestic delivery on pop tunes like Phil Coulter’s “The Old Man” and hymns like “How Great Thou Art” shows the great range of this impossibly gifted Irish treasure. The New York Times recently reported on the pop sensibilities that are creeping into classical music to create a new “classical crossover” genre, with bands like Bond and Simon Cowell’s Il Divo selling boatloads of discs. Ireland’s pride and joy is leading the pack on Ronan.

3. Mono Band — Mono Band:

Noel Hogan takes the ringing, expansive guitar rock that he manufactured in the Cranberries and added inventive programming, icy electronic blips, and otherworldly textures to make a chillout masterpiece. He sought out different Irish singers to take the place of the formidable chops of Dolores O’Riordan, and their varied styles blend seamlessly on the band’s debut. In fact, Angie Hart’s soaring vocal on “Crazy” offers proof that Dolores can be replaced, and the Arabic chanting on “Brighter Sky” layered atop a killer techno musical bed is pure world beat dance hall delight.

2. Sinead O’Connor — Throw Down Your Arms.

Sinead takes us to church by way of Jamaica with this spiritual disc steeped in island tradition. In her hands, these reggae tunes that praise Jah sound like modern day hymns. She employs Sly and Robbie, the legendary riddim duo of reggae yesteryear, to produce a crisp, ferocious run through of Bob Marley and Lee “Scratch” Perry classics. “If you run to the sea/the sea will be boiling/if you run to the rocks, the rocks will be melting,” she roars on the “Downpressor Man,” a song written by Peter Tosh about unwelcome British rule.

We Irish know that topic all to well, proving that reggae music’s themes of rebellion and world peace are universal. Sinead knows that all too well, and Jamaica got a little hotter when she made this masterpiece there over the summer.

Album of the year — Mark Geary’s Ghosts.

With little more than an acoustic guitar, Geary creates a folk masterpiece on record and steals Frames fans right out from under the mighty band when they shared the stage earlier this summer.

His compositions range from gentle acoustic lullabies to intense stories of love gained and lost. He also flashes an endearing humor on the fun duets he does with the Frames’ Glen Hansard, like “You’re the Only Girl” and “Fanfare.”

The dangerous temptress in “Morphine” has “sulphur kisses” that entice the singer. Is he singing about drugs or a woman? He plays loose with abstract imagery throughout Ghosts, a disc that haunted me all year.


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