Longwalk LMCD 003
Latecomers to popular music are rare, and whoever has not released her or his first album in their early twenties will find it harder and harder to get on the train. Leonard Cohen comes to mind as someone who started recording when he was thirty, and nonetheless became famous. But even for latecomers, a singer who releases his first cd at the age of fifty-five is something of a rarity. So it is with Sean Tyrrell: he was wandering the streets of Greenwich Village in the late 1960s, and was writing songs as early as the 1970s (when, for instance, he wrote Time You Old Gypsy Man, included here). However, his first cd, Cry Of A Dreamer, was not released until 1995.
Cry Of A Dreamer was seen by many reviewers in the US and the UK as one of the best folk records of the year. It must be one of the most played cds in my collection, and I could very well declare it one of the best Irish folk cds of all time. With a voice that recalls Christy Moore in range and profundity, Tyrrell is a very special breed of singer. While he writes some of his songs himself, in many cases he adds music to poems written by Irish poets, or covers rarely-heard songs by other songwriters, or performs traditional songs-and on top of that, he composes reels, jigs, and other instrumentals. All these faces of Tyrrell have given us four great cds that can hardly be compared to anything else anyone has done in the last decade.
Cry Of A Dreamer was released by Rykodisc, and had Tyrrell followed the steps of commercial music, he should have gained a big audience by now. Instead (because, as he says in the liner notes, he is accused of being a romantic and sometimes a cynic) he started his own label and released The Orchard, a cd almost as good as Dreamer and quite similar in mood. A very different project, Songs Of Peace, was released in 1999, and it includes music set to the poems of Irish poet Francis Ledwidge.
And now, in 2002, we stand in front of another masterpiece from Tyrrell: his fourth cd, Belladonna, eighteen songs and nearly seventy minutes of music. Most of the songs turn around Tyrrell's voice and his special four-string tenor guitar, but he also plays mandolin, mandocello, mandola, and mandobass. Many of the lyrics are poems by well-known British poets such as Yeats, and other poets lesser-known outside Ireland, such as Ralph Hodgson, Cormac McConnell, and Francis Ledwidge.
I don't want to pick any one song in Belladonna, because all of them are great, and the whole record works as a coherent piece of art. The instrumentals pick up just when a song gets too intense, and then leave the scene when they are too light to go on. Belladonna shows that this man's art is here to stay. His cds are not easy to find (only two of them are listed on amazon.co.uk and one on amazon.com). He probably is the best-kept secret in Irish music. But, sooner or later, every Irish singer will be compared to this great performer. If you are reading this review, and if you have the slightest interest in folk music, Irish music, great vocalists, and singer-songwriters, you can't afford one more day without listening to Sean Tyrrell!