Reviews of VT158CD 'Easy & Bold'
The Lyons brothers have been exemplars of the best of English-language Irish singing for decades now. Those with long memories will remember the impact of their solo vinyl albums May Morning Dew (John 1974) and The Green Linnet (Tim 1972). They offer both these songs again here so we can compare and hear that now, in their mid- and late-seventies, their performances are as committed, passionate, sure and absorbing as ever.
They have performed separately throughout their lives but there are parts of songs here that they sing together in unison, generally on the lighter pieces. There are some of the delightfully wordy comical pieces full of internal assonances that the Irish delight in – "Lie Like a Frog", "Bold Thady Quill" and The
"Limerick Rake" – the sort of pieces that seem to trip easily off the tongue (well, they seem easy until you try to learn them.)
Four instrumentals contribute to the variety that is
on offer and these have John playing button accordion along with daughter
Aisling on concertina and son Sean on tin whistle. In the end, however, it is
the full-on treatment of some of most demanding items in the Irish repertoire
that has the listener reaching for superlatives. Two have been mentioned, but
Tim’s way with "Droighnean Donn" and "Anach Cuain" are simply breathtaking and
then there is John and "After Aughrim’s Great Disaster" which must have claims
to be the finest recording of this moving lament.
The 20-page booklet forms a worthy companion to this
project. We are treated to interesting notes on all the songs and tunes by John
Howson and he also gives us an interesting essay on the brothers’ lives in
England and Ireland as well as many interesting photos from family archives
(including the young pair as Wren Boys).
This could be the finest of all the releases on Veteran. Now that is saying something, isn’t it?
English Dance & Song
I’ve respected and enjoyed the singing of these two
brothers for more years than I care to remember, but I never thought to hear
them singing on the same recording. While their singing has as many similarities
as you would expect from siblings, this juxtaposition also shows up the
differences in their style and delivery. Both are now mature singers (I hope
they won’t mind me putting it that way) and the ornate, declamatory style of
earlier years, while it is still there, has in part given way to the more
measured pace of experience.
The 15 tracks on this CD show all sides of these ambassadors of Irish song to advantage: from the humorous pieces that both men have always enjoyed to the big songs that have also been their hallmark. It’s good to hear how John approaches After Aughrim these days and Tims rendition of An Droighnean Donn and The Green Linnet is as powerful as ever, but in a different, more understated way than in the past. A very simple Anach Cuain highlights Tim’s storytelling ability as well as his fine
decoration to perfection, and John’s Goodbye (O Máire Bán) says a lot in a few words – and says it well.
The two brothers share the light-hearted tracks to great effect, and variety is also enhanced by four sets of tunes played by John and his children, Aisling and Sean. The booklet with the CD gives an excellent background to John and Tim’s lives in general, and with reference to Irish music and song ¡n particular, as well as notes on the provenance of the individual tracks.
In many ways this recording can be seen as a (brief) encapsulation of the musical careers of two of Ireland’s most influential singers — aIl too brief, perhaps, but very satisfying. And the story’s not over yet.
The Living Tradition
There are few singers of the Lyons’ generation still
active. John is seventy-nine and his brother is seventy-five and, while most of
the events they sing about are not within living memory, theír grandfather was
evicted for membership of the Irish Land League and the family moved to England
before returning to settle in the West of Ireland.
John’s children, Aisling and Sean, join in on the four tune sets, but essentially this is an album of unaccompanied songs. It starts on jolly enough note with ‘The Limerick Rake’ from which the title comes but quickly we’re into tragedy and lamentation. ‘After Aughrim’, ‘Anach Cuain’, ‘Goodbye (O Máire Bán) and ‘The May Morning Dew’ are almost certainly better representation of the nation’s
temperament than any showbiz ‘Oirishness’.
Good songs all but a bit of a downer, John lightens the mood at the end with ‘Lie Like A Frog’, which should be better known, and finally ‘Bold Thady Quill’, which is apparently still sung at the football and the hurling.
Actually, the sequencing and balance of the record is spot on. Here are some important songs from the Irish tradition, simply and honestly sung. Excellent sleeve notes as always from Veteran, too.
R2 (Rock & Reel)
It is always difficult to review the output on the Veteran label. Should I be considering it from the viewpoint of a general listener or as a social document?
The Lyons brothers were born in Cork in the 1930s
and are both fine singers. The family moved to Wolverhampton in 1946 and their
early exposure to traditional music was from the radio which they tried to
imitate on mouth organ and one-row. They returned separately to Ireland in the
50s to avoid National Service and both played with bands in North Cork and
Kerry. Tim moved to London in the 60s and frequented the Irish pub circuit and
folk clubs including the Singers’ Club. Both brothers performed with a number of
bands and vocal groups and were recorded on a number of occasions.
On this CD we have 11 songs and 4 tune sets. For the
songs John has the stronger voice but Tim, the younger of the two by four years
has a more ornamented style. The recording is topped and tailed by humorous
duets 'The Limerick Rake' and 'Bold Thady Quill'. The rest are mostly very slow
laments, each very good individually, but which would start to drag if not
broken up by the instrumental sets. Of these I particularly liked Tim’s
rendering of 'The Green Linnet'. Of course these days you can also pick and mix
as tracks can be purchased individually in MP3 format.
On the tune sets John is playing a button accordion
while his daughter Aisling plays concertina. Her brother Sean joins on one set
playing whistle. If you are used to the frenetic pace at which “Celtic” music is
often played the tempo of these sets is quite an eye opener. It really doesn’t
have to be fast!
As with all Veteran releases there are extensive notes, the booklet being as large as can be fitted into a standard jewel case and containing 10 pages of biography as well as notes on each song.
The opening track of this CD, 'The Limerick Rake',
sets the scene for the rest of the album beautifully. It conjures up the gentle
countryside of Ireland at the same time as attuning the listeners’ ears to the
sound of the lilting, evocative Irish music. On it John & Tim sing a duet. There
are only two other tracks, 'The Bold Tenant Farmer' and 'Bold Thady Quill', that
feature them together. The other songs are solos by either John or Tim while
there are four instrumental tracks on which John is joined by his daughter,
Aisling and, for one only, his son, Sean.
The brothers are now in their 70s and both living in Ireland, one in Newmarket-on-Fergus, the other in County Galway. They were born in Cork, and had two other brothers and a sister. During their lifetime they have lived elsewhere in the British Isles and travelled to the States, the latter largely because of their music. Life away from Ireland
began with their Father moving to England in 1946 to
find work. Consequently their individual working lives meant that their musical
paths were independent of each other, yet both remained true to their roots and
they were able to settle into performing as a duo with ease, when an occasion
arose. Music remained important to them both.
This compilation CD is another gem from Veteran. John and Tim perform their songs in a relaxed and easy manner that enchants the listener and makes them want more, while the instrumental numbers, equally engaging, add contrast and variety. The detailed sleeve notes are a social history document that provided a full background for those who want it.
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