Brady’s Tenor Crosses The Ages
February 18, 2007
By THOMAS KINTNER, Special to the Courant
Paul Brady has spent his career crossing borders of style while holding fast to substance, developing a wide array of tunes that smartly traverse folk and rock over a span of more than 40 years. Friday night in a solo performance at Crowell Concert Hall at Wesleyan University’s Center for the Arts in Middletown, the Irish folk mainstay led listeners through a diverse range of material from that career.
His resonant tenor was an instrument of earthy character with a touch of grit trimming its edges, a source of full-bodied tone that complemented the acoustic guitar pulse he used to propel the firm folk of his opener, “Help Me to Believe.” Alongside the decorative strumming that formed the backdrop for “Blue World,” his voice was a strong vessel for thoughtful lyrics, etching sturdy soul into its steady pulse.
His songs traded on familiar tropes but frequently gave them careful turns away from the norm, whether sporting an edge in his voice as he issued the mellow charms of “Locked up in Heaven,” or capturing the probing, analytical qualities of his lyrics without sacrificing emotion as he shifted to keyboards and laid a fluid piano line into “Paradise Is Here.”
Subtle turns of phrase were a hallmark of the 59-year-old Irishman’s songs, but he was equally capable of sending direct messages, offering criticism without camouflage as he sized up unhealthy societal fascinations in “Marriage Made in Hollywood.” He wrapped equally strong statements in a deceptively mellow pulse, balancing an embrace of love and potently defined frustrations in the pointed “Living for the Corporation.”
Most of the ground Brady covered comfortably meshed folk and pop sensibilities, seamlessly combining an airy flow and a clear-eyed view of fortune into the engaging package of “Nobody Knows.” His textured treatments of traditional songs showed a different facet of his expertise, whether he was livening up the formally styled framework of “Arthur McBride and the Sergeant” or painting a supple portrait of bittersweet longing in the 19th-century American song “The Lakes of Pontchartrain.”
An examination of 1980s troubles in Brady’s home country was particularly resonant as he took to the piano again for an earnest trip through “The Island,” its desperate pairing of levelheaded observation and dreamy visions of a better place sounding like it belonged in contemporary political discourse. That penchant for mixing sensible thinking with emotional immersion was a hallmark of many tunes, from the smooth ballad “Helpless Heart” to the grounded yet needy perspective of “Follow On.”
Brady beefed up his voice and guitar playing to dig into the stout rock pulse of “Steel Claw,” and barked with equal brio as he closed his set with the brisk “The World Is What You Make It.” He made restraint a highlight of his three-song encore when he rolled lightly through the vibrant storytelling of “The Homes of Donegal,” broadening the palette of his show once more with bits of whistle and a synthesized tonal bed that enhanced the tune’s homespun Irish flavor.
16th annual Irish Connections Festival
By Earle Hitchner
[Published on June 21, 2006, in the IRISH ECHO newspaper, New York City. Copyright (c) Earle Hitchner. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of author.]
CANTON, Mass. — The region’s second-wettest May on record, delivering more than a foot of rain, was followed by another three inches in the week leading up to the 16th annual Irish Connections Festival from June 9 to 11 at the Irish Cultural Centre of New England in this town situated 14 miles southwest of downtown Boston.
Rain also fell throughout the evening of June 9 and most of June 10, leaving the 46-acre site soggy and limiting the overall weekend paid attendance to about 18,000. That was “extraordinary under the circumstances,” observed festival organizer Brian O’Donovan. Amid difficult conditions, the audiences were troupers, as were the musicians and dancers who refused to let the dampness dampen their commitment to giving high-quality performances.
Saturday evening, switching between two acoustic guitars, Paul Brady held the stage as few solo performers can. In the Dancing at the Crossroads tent, the Strabane, Tyrone, native played guitar with dynamic, percussive-rhythmic force and sang with power, humor, poignancy, and social sting. He was electrifying in an all-acoustic set that deepened the impact of such studio-recorded songs as “Smile,” “Blue World,” and “The World Is What You Make It.” Early in the performance, someone from the audience shouted out, “Hey, Johnny,” part of the refrain to a classic Brady song, “Nothing but the Same Old Story.” Grinning, the singer said, “All things come to those who wait,” and went on with his set list.
In the quietly lacerating “Living for the Corporation,” Brady sang about worker lockstep and a workaholic drive that neglects self-growth, relationships, family, and community. Images from Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 film, “Modern Times,” sprang to this listener’s mind as Brady sang, “Someone tell me what we’re doing here / Stuck in the corporate gear / How can something that just bought up the world / Keep on growing?”
Ripples of audience excitement followed the opening notes on Brady’s guitar for such ageless songs as “Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore,” “Arthur McBride and the Recruiting Sergeant,” and “The Lakes of Pontchartrain,” the last of which he prefaced with a reference to Hurricane Katrina.
When Brady sang the stanza about “a brother in Boston” who has a “summer house way down on the Cape” in “Nothing but the Same Old Story,” it elicited a roar from the crowd. Written in 1980, this song depicting the plight of Irish immigrants in London still packs a wallop: “Living under suspicion / Putting up with the hatred and fear in their eyes / You can see that you’re nothing but a murderer / In their eyes, we’re nothing but a bunch of murderers.”
Paul Brady simply scorched the stage.
The Irish Examiner Wednesday 3rd May 2006
Trawling through a back catalogue of more than 25 years, Paul Brady brought to Ennis a stripped down ensemble featuring Graham Henderson on keyboards and Bill Shanley on guitar. The show opened with ‘I Want You To Want Me’ from Brady’s 1995 Spirits Colliding album, and it perfectly set the tone for the two hour set that followed. Many lesser known songs from the pen of the Strabane man got an airing as he made a conscious effort to mix the familiar with the more obscure.
Using his punchy acoustic guitar to propel his at times soaring vocals, Brady relied on his deft sidemen to give colour and shape to a set-list that combined the inspirational with the average. A trio of songs from last year’s Say What You Feel album connected less favourably than some of the more familiar fare on offer, though ‘Sail, Sail On’ stood out, if only for Shanley’s shimmering slide guitar. One of the highlights of the night, though, was ‘Trust In You’, also to be heard on Spirits Colliding.
As the show progressed, we were treated to sparse but enthusiastically vigorous arrangements of ‘Crazy Dreams’ and ‘Hard Station’, while ‘Oh What A World’ and ‘The World Is What You Make It’ both exhibited Brady’s fondness for what could be termed ‘good-time’ music. The three song encore began with a solo rendition of the classic ‘Lakes Of Pontchartrain’, and then Henderson and Shanley returned to ably assist on a stirring version of ‘Wheel Of Heartbreak’. They finished off in spectacular fashion with a rousing ‘Homes Of Donegal’.
Concert Review: Raitt, Brady offer full-course meal to hungry crowd
San Antonio ExpressNews Staff Writer Feb 23 2006
If Tuesday‘s concert at Freeman Coliseum offered a Taste of Chaos with its reaffirming youthful rock infusion, then Wednesday’s show at the Majestic Theatre with seasoned legends Bonnie Raitt and Paul Brady was nothing short of a full-course meal of mastery.
Raitt and her band performed to a rowdy, virtually sold-out house, playing a mix of signature hits, eclectic choice cuts and songs off her acclaimed new album, “Souls Alike.”
This was Raitt relaxed, confident and sometimes choked up by the emotional lyrics (her encore delivery of the mournful “I Can’t Make You Love Me” will be remembered for its beauty and the singer‘s muffled sobs). But she was mostly playful.
And there was even a near wardrobe malfunction when Raitt, who changes guitars almost every song, strapped on one a little too fast and it caught the front of her low-cut top. A flushed Raitt would call it her “little Janet Jackson moment.”
The show opened much more smoothly with two new songs, “Two Lights in the Nighttime” and the Grammy-nominated “I Will Not Be Broken.” Hammond B-3 organ underpinned Raitt‘s smooth electric slide guitar sound, which pushed beautifully dampened notes to the ceiling with nary a string squeak.
Next, because some of the proceeds from the concert are earmarked for New Orleans hurricane relief, Raitt and her crack four-man band played the haunting “God Was in the Water” in homage.
Raitt, 56, took her fans back to her coffeehouse days with acoustic blues “Mighty Tight Woman” from her first album. She even played James Taylor’s “Country Road” (she’s yet to record this but she should, as she hardens up the track with seventh-notes and blues flourishes).
The headliner was at her best and absolutely beaming when she was rollicking full-tilt on songs such as the new “Unnecessarily Mercenary7″ and the Fabulous Thunderbirds”I Believe I’m in Love.” Raitt seemed to take particular glee in changing up the set list just to keep her musicians on their toes.
Irish folk star Brady, a songwriter’s songwriter making his first appearance in San Antonio, delivered a jaw-dropping opening set on solo acoustic guitar and piano that is sure to send aspiring lyricists in a mad dash to buy as many of his records as possible.
Songs such as “Smile,” off his latest CD, and “Say What You Feel,” bounced with tempered enthusiasm, driven by his aggressive strumming over odd tunings. But the anti-fascist bent of “Blue World” was brilliant beyond Bob Dylan from this aging antihero.
Imagine a huskier, soulful Sting, and you’re in the ballpark of conjuring the tone of Brady’s voice, which at times hints at Gordon Lightfoot and even Ray Davies on the lovely “Nobody Knows.”
He is famous as an interpreter of traditional folk songs, and his commanding performance of “The Lakes of Pontchartrain” absolutely stunned the audience with its cooing beauty. But just as often he could give it the gas on his Tex-Mex “Crazy Dreams” and “The World Is What You Make It.” The latter could be a long-lost Kinks track.
Sarah Wardrop, WUMB
Say What You Feel sounds AMAZING on the air! I don’t know what it is about his voice, but it just works. It cuts right through and grabs you.
Jack Barton -FMQB
“Paul Brady’s Say What You Feel stirs the listener the same way David Gray’s White Ladder did on the first time through. Brady’s passionate vocals and musical textures draw you into the stories his songs tell – stories that relate to any walk of life.”
Top 5 Calls on this Song! – Ira Gordon, KBAC Santa Fe Brady has a soulful Van Morrison quality in his music, although he‘s more immediately accessible.
Acoustic Guitar Magazine
For the better part of 35 years, Paul Brady has succeeded in changing the face of Irish traditional and popular music.
The Wall Street Journal
Paul Brady is a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist of rare gifts, an artist who has made an indelible impression in both traditional and pop-rock genres.
The Irish Times
Brady‘s open unguarded singing-style gives the album an easygoing laid-back feel. Behind the apparent artlessness of Say What You Feel, however, lie the skills of a studio band whose combined musical talents are off the end of the scale.
Exclaim Toronto, Canada
Any Paul Brady release marks a special occasion – he represents the cream of Irish exports and a one-of-a-kind singer-songwriter who’s unflagging commitment to his craft has wielded untold influence on countless artists. There are few like him. Brady considers himself a white Irish soul singer and that’s the best way to assess his every release, no less so his 14th. Unlike so many of his other recordings, SWYF is decidedly off-the-cuff -recorded in Nashville but, despite the presence of Nashville’s finest sons, it sounds less painstakingly wrought – preferring spontaneity over production sheen. Like any Brady offering, his songwriting is his strongest suit. Individual songs don‘t bowl you over immediately but ultimately win you over with their intelligence and elaborately-textured construction. His knack for melody is stupefying.
As a result, there is much to fall for here: from the stripped down Locked Up In Heaven – his effective voice alone with his Fender Rhodes, to the more elaborate Doing It In The Dark, which grants him his soul jones, delivered with a kick in his step and some mighty B3 organ from Reese Wynans. In the Timeless Spent-Love Song Dept., there’s Beyond The Reach of Love for a kick in the guts worth remembering. When it comes to Paul Brady, everything fits like a well-worn cardigan and nobody needs to impress anyone. Brady feels more than most and says it better than anybody.
The Hot Press Dublin, Ireland
Feb 3 2005
According to my calculations, Paul Brady celebrates forty years as a professional musician this year. You certainly wouldn‘t think so- looking at the fresh-faced (and decidedly blonder than usual) chap staring out from the cover of his first album since 2001‘s Oh What A World. And if his gruelling touring schedule is anything to go by (he treks around the US in Feb followed by an Irish/UK tour) the man from Strabane shows little sign of slowing down.
On first listen, Say What You Feel appears to be a more subdued collection with a higher proportion of slow-burners than of yore. And to my limited musical ears, there are a lot more minor and major 7th chords here than we‘re used to from Brady-hence a sweeter, more melodically accessible sound. This is no bad thing and it certainly opens on a strong note with ’Smile‘- a classic Brady ballad in the mould of ’Nobody Knows‘. With a gorgeous melody and “think-positive” lyrics, recalling James Taylor‘s ’Secret O‘ Life‘ it‘s a dead cert for a slew of future cover versions. A straight-forward love song ’I Only Want You‘ rolls along at a similarly mellow pace setting the template for much of the overall sound on the album.
As with his last collection, most of the songs here are collaborations with various (mostly American-based) songwriters, though curiously a few are co–written with one John Kelly. ’Living For The Corporation‘ is their joint take on the Working –For –The-Man theme, as explored in the past on songs as diverse as Springsteen‘s ’Factory‘ and Dolly Parton‘s ’Nine To Five‘.
’The You That‘s Really You‘ might have an unwieldy title but it‘s another strong song and the nearest thing to a country tune here, while the funky ’Love In A Bubble‘ boasts more of a Memphis soul/blues feel than anything you might associate with Music City. ’Locked Up In Heaven‘ has a Broadway musical atmosphere about it—not quite sure if it works but Brady‘s musical ideas have a habit of growing on you over time. No such question marks hang over the smoulderingly soulful title track-an instantly impressive number and yet another standout on an album chock-full of memorable gems.
Without question his most satisfying collection in a long while.
What‘s On In London UK
Jan 26th 2005
A mighty talent, legendary Irish singer songwriter Paul Brady‘s popularity has soared as the years have passed. Either solo or in collaboration with artists such as Bonnie Raitt and Carole King, Brady has amassed a body of work that stands comparison with that of either Van Morrison or Jackson Browne. Following on from his recent superb Paul Brady Songbook CD/DVD career retrospective comes a collection of brand new songs, Say What You Feel, which mark a significant departure from previous outings. The differences are two-fold. The first is in the album‘s production values. More stripped-back and spontaneous than his 80‘s and 90‘s records (which Brady now describes as over-produced), Say What You Feel is closer to the organic vibrancy of 1981‘s Hard Station. The second change concerns Brady‘s vocals. Singing in a lower register than usual Brady imbues each song with even greater soulful resonance. The result is a superbly crated album choc-full of great songs and sublime performances: a record for all seasons. ****1/2 stars
Uncut London, UK
Nashville Recorded career high-point from skilled Irish songwriter.
Nobody has ever doubted Brady’s ability as a writer: Bonnie Raitt, Tina Turner and Cher have all covered him. But although Dylan was impressed enough to pinch his arrangement of the trad “Arthur McBride”, Brady’s own recordings have disappointed. Until now.. Glorious songs delivered with a laid-back freedom we’ve seldom heard before makes “Say What You Feel” the most satisfying album of his 25-year solo career. Anyone who admired Ray LaMontagne’s debut album should investigate Brady’s work immediately
Performing Songwriter USA Jan 2005
A songwriter’s songwriter if ever there was one, Paul Brady has seen his work covered by artists as diverse as Bonnie Raitt, Lucy Kaplansky and Carlos Santana. This latest CD in a career that has spanned more than 30 years ranks among his finest. Recorded, mostly live-in-the-studio, Say What You Feel throws off an understated glow with its intimate sound and sparse production. Brady ranges from lounge-y, brushed-drum acoustic balladry (‘I Only Want You’), soulful pop excursions (the title song), and, in the case of ‘The You That’s Really You’, a slice of gospel-inflected perfection that evokes sugar plum memories of Joe South’s ‘Games People Play’. On occasion Brady lapses into the pedestrian, such as the soft-rock ‘Love In a Bubble’, but all-in-all this set should further his already-stellar reputation among his peers.
Daily Express UK
The Irish singer-songwriter flew to Nashville to pick up an award for writing The Long Goodbye for Brooks & Dunn, and ended up staying to make this album. The intoxicating blend of Irish intensity and southern hospitality combined to produce a classic album. Brady’s compatriot Bono describes him as “the iron fist in the velvet glove of Irish music”. Brady’s pure vocals allied to soulful songwriting, first displayed on albums like Trick Or Treat and Spirits Colliding, shines brightly through this Tennessean-Celtic mist with a passion
BBC Radio 2 Folk and Acoustic website
Seems to me there used to be a certain kind of artist whose calling card was the inclination to give more than the job demanded: to provide an especially dense, layered experience for the audience, full of passion, surprise, detail and nuance which compelled us to go back again and again to the work. Examples might include Lowell George’s best work with Little Feat (ref. ‘Rock’n’Roll Doctor’), the prose poetry of E. Annie Proulx, and the intense, fiery playing and muscular lyrics on Paul Brady’s first move from the traditional repertoire into the world of contemporary song, Hard Station. Now, a dozen or so albums on, via the sanctioning of his work by no less than Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt and other such, we have Paul’s new CD, Say What You Feel. It’s recorded almost live in a Nashville studio with a spare, acoustic sound and a relaxed, intimate feel.
Brady’s songwriting has evolved a sometimes deceptively soft focus, affairs of the heart and bistro romances cropping up constantly (“we ordered pizza, and the waiter was gay”, recalling Joni Mitchell at her most anecdotal). Paul’s singing here seems to have dropped a musical interval or two, sacrificing that old keening edge in favour of the warm, toasty sound of a man seemingly at ease with his world and certainly comfortably within his considerable musical range. The musical texture, all strummed acoustic guitar, plummy double bass lines and lightly brushed percussion, further suggest to this listener the soundtrack of the next Richard Curtis Britcom movie, woven seamlessly into the clink and chatter of life among the liberal, educated young-ish professionals of North London. And maybe that’s the idea.
Say What You Feel is, of course, shot through with class: it’s impeccably recorded, sporting the occasional arresting phrase (both verbal and musical), and it’s tuneful and warming to the ear. Exactly what the job requires, I suppose: no more, and no less.
Sydney Morning Herald May 17th 2004
In with the new as a master craftsman refines his art
Seymour Centre, Sydney
May 15 2004
By John Shand
It’s one thing to request, recognise and cheer the old songs, but another to be spellbound by the new ones. Paul Brady unveiled several from a forthcoming album on Saturday, including Living For The Corporation, and they drove home just how exceptional this man’s lyrics, melodies and craftsmanship really are.
This has been appreciated by a host of popular artists from Tina Turner to Mary Black, Bonnie Raitt to Cher. What sets him apart is that a background in Irish folk has been mated with pop sensibilities, spawning catchy songs of real substance.
Many writers might get a flicker of an idea for a verse or a chorus, for a lyric or melody, and then beaver away building that up with additional parts.
Few songs are written more or less straight through. Brady’s probably aren’t either, although the point is they sound like they are. His transitions – so often where lesser writers reveal their clumsy stitching for all to see – are logical, seamless and very musical.
Then there are his lyrics. Like everyone else he mostly writes love songs but his are moving grown-up love songs like I Will Be There, where the notion of friendship can count for more than the puerile sexual metaphors and innuendos that spatter our ears so often.
In performance what really hits you, however, is his voice. It sounds like it has been forged and toughened in raucous pubs – a priceless apprenticeship lost to those who slide straight from bedroom the recording studio. On the more impassioned songs such as Nothing but The Same Old Story, Brady uses it with the urgency of a man pulling a friend from a burning car.
There was a touching reading of The Long Goodbye (about the slow-burn disintegration of a relationship) and a cooking The World Is What You Make It, both to be found on his wonderful Songbook CD.
His accompaniment moves from guitar to piano to keyboard, the former being his instrument of choice for the grittiest songs. If he is no virtuoso, the combination of innate musical sense and pronounced dynamics do ample justice to the material.
To hear him with a band would be even mightier because, despite the beauty of the tunes and the perspicacity of the words, many of these songs also want to rock. The legend grows.
Paul Brady and The Liberty Belles
Vicar Street, Dublin
To the traditional singing devotee, King Tut’s tomb swinging open was nothing to Paul Brady’s excavating The Missing Liberty Tapes in his attic last November. There under some old LPs was the recording of a concert Brady had played in Liberty Hall in 1978. The recording marks the high point of his career as a traditional singer – soon after that he moved into the folk /rock idiom and never again performed many of the songs on the playlist.
Brady’s traditional voice was arguably the finest male voice of the folk revival.Since he abandoned the traditional repertoire, he has had the allure of an extravagantly talented dead singer for traditional fans. The Missing Liberty Tapes magically catch his voice at its peak – there is no finer recording of Arthur McBride. Listening to the CD over and over, listening to Paul Brady perform his contemporary repertoire, and then going along to see the revival of the concert he played in 1978 at the weekend, there was much to learn about the essence of traditional singing.
Brady’s Liberty Tapes voice is clear, as rhythmically regular as an instrument, rich with ornamentation – but it has that quality of distance which often marks traditional music, as if the performer is visiting the work, not making it his own.
On Sunday night at Vicar Street, Brady’s folk/rock-influenced voice made songs such as The Lakes Of Pontchartrain and Arthur McBride more personal – less ornamented but more idiosyncratic.
He can’t revisit the voice of his youth, partly because he’s older, but also because he has moved on. (Interestingly Andy Irvine’s voice sounded like it always did). Instruments have longer memories, and it was wonderful to see the line-up almost reformed (Matt Molloy was missing). Donal Lunny, Noel Hill, Paddy Glackin, Andy Irvine, Liam O’Flynn. They are dazzlingly talentedmulti-instrumentalists, as is Brady.
It was breathtaking to see Brady, Lunny and Irvine jumping like rodeo riders from mandolin to guitar, Lunny from guitar to bouzouki and mandolin on the Balkan jam which follows The Creel.
In some ways the concert was a private trip for the boys down Memory Lane. The rigid following of the original playlist meant there was little space for invention, only for send-up.
It was a privilege to see those Titans at play, but the real find of the season has been that missing recording, which fell into Brady’s hands, it seems, when he was ready to live again at peace with his silver-voice youth.
The Irish Times October 9th 2001
The Paul Brady Songbook
Vicar Street, Dublin
For all his prestige and credibility as a songwriter, Paul Brady seems to need continually to prove himself – no bad thing for any artist. Hence The Paul Brady Songbook, an umbrella title for 23 shows he is staging this month at one of Dublin’s best music venues,
It’s a risky undertaking, but Brady is nothing if not ambitious, even if he does occasionally have the haunted look of a person who would be far happier watching someone else’s gig.
Throughout the month, Brady will be joined by guests from the trad, bluegrass, jazz and blues fields, with backing from various musicians.
For the first show of his tenure, he was backed by his regular band, with Leslie Dowdall providing backing vocals. Brady’s guest was Curtis Stigers, who proffered a sweet, soulful line in sax playing and a couple of songs that included I Wonder Why, his UK top 5 hit.
Despite the trimmings – not to mention excellent sound, ultra smooth light show, comfortable seating and air conditioning – it was clear that people were there to see Brady himself.
It’s a testament to the man’s staying power that he has been able to use this unprecedented series of concerts to delve into his back catalogue like never before. No new ‘product’ to plug means no standard one-off gig of a few new songs peppered with greatest hits.
Brady measured the tone of the gig with a loose, leisurely pacing of songs, some of which hadn’t seen the light of day for years. More fair-weather fans, lured to the gig by the possibility of seeing Brady up close and personal, were treated to classic tracks such as Crazy Dreams, Follow On, The Long Goodbye and Nobody knows, the latter as perfect an AOR song as you’re likely to hear. Although not a dazzling display of Brady’s strengths, this was a thorough, effective show, highlighting one of the finest songwriting talents in adult-oriented rock.
The Irish Times, October 4th 2001