Back in October 2001 acclaimed Irish singer/songwriter Paul Brady managed the amazing feat of selling out a full month of shows in the one venue, Dublin’s Vicar Street. Designed to showcase his career and back catalogue Brady opened up his “little telephone book” and invited some of his showbiz pals to join him with the aim to have at least one guest per night, unbilled. A mark of his standing in the music community the guests included Van Morrison, Mark Knopfler, Bonnie Raitt, Gavin Friday, Sinead O’Connor and a host of others.
14 years later and we have a selection of songs recorded during this auspicious venture with promises of further volumes to come. Volume 1 comprises of 13 songs recorded on various nights, nine of them featuring guest spots. While it was Brady’s show several of the guests perform their own songs with Brady and band backing them while others cover the man’s songs. In such exalted company Brady acquits himself well with the opening I Want You To Want Me expertly performed and a fine example of his song writing which some folk place on a par with Richard Thompson and John Martyn. He closes the album with a fine rendition of Dylan’s Forever Young sharing the vocals with Mary Black, Moya Brennan and Maura O’Connell and eventually the full hall who join in the refrain with the recording actually carrying some of the passion of the night.
As for the guests, Van Morrison, whose announcement is greeted heartily by the audience, sings Irish Heartbeat trading vocals with Brady with the song beefed up by a horn arrangement and ending with some fine scatting from Morrison. Mark Knopfler gets all J J Cale on his slinky and sinister Baloney Again and Bonnie Raitt is on fine form vocally on two Brady songs, Not The Only One and The World Is What You Make It with her slide guitar kicking the band into Little Feat territory on the latter. Curtis Stigers blows into view on his song Don’t Go Far (co-written with Beth Neilsen Chapman) while Ronan Keating (of Irish boy band Boyzone!) appears on The Long Goodbye which fits into the overall sense of capturing the occasion but despite repeated listening it’s a song I could live without, coming across as somewhat bloated in comparison to its surroundings.
There are some intimate moments. Sinead O’Connor’s In This Heart is delivered a cappella with Brady singing along, her reedy warble supported by his slight brogue. It’s the most traditional sounding song on the album reminding us that Brady was once in the forefront of Irish folk music. Similarly stripped back is Eleanor McEvoy’s tale of a missing girl, Last Seen October 9th, with Brady on piano and backing vocals, a chilling song. Top of the class however are Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer who transform Brady’s Nobody Knows into a twilight zone inhabited by Lou Reed and Nick Cave.
Brady sold around 17 thousand tickets for his month long sojourn and it’s a fair bet that this belated release (and others to come) will be snatched up by a good many of those who attended. With a great live sound the album is engaging throughout and well worth a punt for those who admire Brady or have an interest in the Irish music scene. We’ll certainly be looking out to see what gems are unveiled on Volume 2.