Review by Paul Fogarty
Irish expat Alan Kelly has spent the best part of twenty years establishing himself on both sides of the globe as a writer of genuinely touching, honest and gritty songs. He’s also got a healthy dose of the kind of irreverence that turns good music into great.
Kelly’s band The Barleyshakes have headlined international festivals and toured many parts of the world in various forms. They’ve been based in Australia since headlining the 2000/01 edition of the world famous Woodford Folk Festival and contributing the talents of two members to Peter Jackson’s “The Fellowship of the Ring” academy award winning soundtrack.
The tradition of Irish music is long, deep and wide and remarkably brilliant. That the Barleyshakes manage to hold hands with this awesome history while simultaneously infusing it with a fresh and contemporary spirit is remarkable. They’ve always done it that way but with each new album those bonds are strengthened and illuminated in ways that make you wonder where they will take them next.
On “Grateful” the Barleyshakes present a kind of world tour of traditional and contemporary Irish folk songs, instrumentals and influences embellished by soaring accompaniment and dramatic and inspired arrangements. Kelly himself plays acoustic guitar, always pulsing and shifting, moving the shadows in the background. He also sings lead vocals and he’s no slouch on the Bodhran (Irish hand drum) either - Alan played the Bodhran on the sound track for “The Fellowship of the Rings”.
The Barleyshakes have always been populated by uber-talents and “Grateful” is no different: Steve Cook on bouzouki, banjo, fiddle; Belinda Ford on flutes and low whistle; Alan’s missus Kristin Kelly on fiddle; Erin Sulman (ex Lothlorian) on drums and percussion; and Gary Ward (who hasn’t he played with?) on bass; and Sophie Bahnson and the Kelly’s three young’uns Sofia, Mocara and Rory sharing backing vocals.
It’s the latest in a growing catalogue of pulsing, home-made, authentic folk/acoustic albums put out by the ‘Shakes. “Grateful” is beautifully recorded, spacious and filled with scintillating musical conversations.