Thin Lizzy - Live And Dangerous
Electricity courses through 'Live And Dangerous,' unobstructed by inhibition’s safety fuse. Raw, undiluted thrill flows out of the speakers, waves crashing on the senses’ rocks, satisfying and strong. This is not 40 watt electricity. This is the natural power of lightning complete with thunder’s anthemic accompaniment. The Thin Lizzy live experience, as evidenced by this album, was a celebration of living in the modern age. Of the opportunities and luxuries afforded to far too few.
While time may have dated Phil Lynott’s afro and leather, not even millennia could rust the high-calibre of these songs or the exquisite rawness of Tony Visconti’s production. The studio recordings of such solid tunes as The Boys Are Back In Town seem nigh-wimpy beside the versions on 'Live And Dangerous.' And even the more tender tracks - Dancing In The Moonlight, Still In Love With You - carry themselves with more weight and confidence.
Their career ended too soon with Phil Lynott’s life. But Thin Lizzy’s 'Live And Dangerous' will soundtrack the nurturing experiences of many for years to come. And thus, their modern age carries on.
The Divine Comedy - A Shot Album About Love
Sandwiched in between The Divine Comedy’s big break in 1996 with the ‘Casanova’ album and the Generation Sex on the National Express witticism of ‘Fin De Siècle’ came ‘A Short album About Love’.
As the title would suggest it captures Neil Hannon in the throws of passion. Recorded live at two sound checks, with luscious strings arranged by Jobby Talbot, ‘A Short Album About Love’ sees The Divine Comedy implement an audacious move which in part plays as if they are making an unsolicited application to write the next James Bond theme tune.
These anthemic compositions far exceed the majority of the songs that have accompanied James Bond films since the album’s release, and it’s really criminal that The Divine Comedy have been overlooked repeatedly for a role they were born to play.
The comedy factor still remains with Everybody Knows (Except You) and I’m All You Need, but this album really succeeds when Hannon goes full Frank Sinatra on the more serious, amorous moments.
Rory Gallagher – Calling Card
There is an unwavering feeling of immense pride that one of the world’s greatest bluesmen hails from these shores. Rory Gallagher’s eighth album, ‘Calling Card’, came out in 1976 and saw the Donegal born/Cork reared guitarist take a turn into more diverse territories than the harder-edged rock of his previous (and subsequent) outings, taking in folk, jazz, blues, rock and melodic balladry.
Up until ‘Calling Card’, Rory had produced all of his own solo records, but after having opened for Deep Purple on their US tour, he forged an alliance with their bassist, Roger Glover, who helped guide the record into more expansive territories. The studio wasn’t Rory’s natural habitat. The stage was where he thrived, and he gigged relentlessly – a fact illustrated by his paint-stripped, war-torn Stratocaster. The band’s taut intuition, forged through countless hours on the road, is felt through the record’s nine tracks.
Bassist Gerry McAvoy was a mainstay, sharing a stage with the guitarist from the breakup of Taste in 1970 until Rory’s death in 1995, but the incarnation of the band with Rod de'Ath on drums and Lou Martin on keyboards had been together since 1973’s ‘Blueprint’. These four musicians played through the ensuing ‘Tattoo’ album and the peerless ‘Irish Tour ‘74’, arguably the most adept line-up that Rory played with over his career. ‘Calling Card’, though, would be the fifth and last album Rory would do with de’Ath and Martin. Sad, yes, but listening to the record’s closing track there isn’t a hint of finality, and Barley and Grape Rag remains one of Rory’s funniest, finest, locked-after-hours recordings.
The Eskies - After The Sherry Went Round
It’s difficult to pinpoint the best songs from The Eskies’ debut 'After The Sherry Went Round' as the album is one big highlight in itself. The Dublin gypsy folk gang demonstrates a quality we don’t see in bands often, and that is to view the world and music as its reflection as a comedy of errors, taking it seriously enough to laugh along but never too seriously.
It’s a contagiously fun album, from the anthem Fever, which is often a gig closer, to the tragicomic trio of Chin Up Jack, Jesus Don’t Save Me and Heave Away, aligned so perfectly that you don’t know where a song ends and awesomeness begins. The album is full of treats such as mighty brass section counter-melodies and dramatic vocal harmonies deserving Broadway exposure. There aren’t many Irish albums capable of lifting your spirits better than 'After The Sherry Went Round' – it’s the musical equivalent of your favourite drink at your favourite pub.
Damian Rice - O
Released independently in 2002 before being re-released as part of Vector records in 2003, ‘O’ quickly became the go-to break-up album of the early 2000’s. Rice, originally from Co. Kildare, had put together a beautiful mix of Gothic chants, angelic harmonization (provided by Lisa Hannigan) and minimalist instrumentation that many found profoundly moving. With little more than an acoustic guitar, a piano and a heart full of anguish, Rice saw his album slowly shift copies through word of mouth alone. Now one of the biggest selling debut albums in Irish music, it left Rice struggling with his newfound fame, a struggle which would cause the albums follow-up to be delayed six years.
Tracks such as Amie, Volcano and The Blower’s Daughter showcase the talents of a writer who is, first and foremost, a poet. The likes of The Blower’s Daughter and Cannonball have ingrained themselves deep into the psyche of singer-songwriters the world over and have become seminal in the musical history and culture of Ireland. For an album that was financed by the writer's father, on the promise that it would be completed, it has far outgrown its humble, handcrafted beginnings.
Rusangano Family - Let The Dead Bury The Dead
Rusangano Family's debut was the deserved winner of the Choice Music Prize for 2016. Both as social document and artistic endeavour it certainly didn't have many rivals. In their former guise of GodKnows + mynameisjohn they had already accumulated plenty of admirers and critical acclaim and that has now multiplied considerably.
The two MCs - GodKnows and MuRli - have a unique perspective on the Irish socio-political landscape. GodKnows hails from Zimbabwe, MuRli from Togo while beat-maker mynameisjohn all the way from Co. Clare, but the rhythm and rhymes of the two MCs are perfectly suited to the loops, beats and samples of mynameisjohn. A harmonious coming together, unlike the immigrant experience in Ireland documented in 'Let the Dead Bury the Dead'.
Songs deal variously with the plight of the struggling musician in the light of family expectations (Kierkegaard, Blabber Mouth), a refugee’s journey from a war torn country (Heathrow) and the persecution of women (Isn’t Dinner Nice). It’s not all heavy material though and there are moments of humour (Lights On) and downright fun (Bon Voyage) while also acknowledging their musical roots (Soulfood).
It was current and on point then, and it remains so now. In many ways it is prophetic, written before the refugee crisis and the recent #metoo campaign and yet touching on both of those issues.
There’s not too many albums you can say that about.
Fight Like Apes - and the Mystery of the Golden Medallion
Don’t sing along! I dare you. Sit there in stony silence, lips pursed as May Kay screams “Give me my hook”, “Lend me your face” or “In only legs and top she’s so sexy”. Self-restraint is all well and good, but self-denial can do you damage.
Fight Like Apes and the Mystery of the Golden Medallion is a b-movie, one part tantrum and one part “oh my god, I’m an adult I’m not ready for this, what the fuck is going on?”.
It harks back to a ‘90s childhood with references to largely-forgotten, teen sitcom California Dreams (for once and for all, ‘Jake Summers’ is not reference to a similarly named pornstar), and the heyday of the World Wrestling Federation. And, of course, there are those little cuts from movies so-bad-they’re-good of decades past.
It’s not a song without its emotional side too. Bjork sang about being ‘Violently Happy’ in 1994 and there big dollops of such emotion all over this album, while the line “None of that matters, ‘cos she’s been your cow for a while” from Snore Bore Whore is more heartbreaking than any reading of those words would suggest.
And then there are the tunes. Granted, the likes of Lend Me Your Face and Battlestations sounded better on the band’s first EP, but nearly 10 years later the album still sounds rich, novel (without being novelty) and fresh. Fight Like Apes and the Mystery of the Golden Medallion is that brash, impudent friend that you’re slightly embarrassed to take out in public but wouldn’t change for the world.
The Cast Of Cheers - Chariot
A decent shout for the biggest word-of-mouth debut ever released in Ireland, the driving math-rock of 'Chariot' saw The Cast Of Cheers catapulted from bedroom-band unknowns to hearing their songs yelled back at them at one of their very first shows. Released via the blogosphere in February 2010, the debut was informally 'unreleased' later (though is still exists in full online) in favour of a label debut containing a few of the same songs. 'Family' came out two years later.
For most, though 'Chariot' was the Dublin four-piece's opus, full of pulsating of-the-moment melody, cryptic lyrics, live-dynamism and an urgent sense of 'being in the moment' that catapulted the band briefly to the level of cult legends.
Tracks like Derp, Auricom and I Am Lion still have fiery intensity today. Conor Adams went on to form the duo All Tvvins (and a couple of other spin-off bands popped up at various times, too). 'Chariot', though. remains the only album ever to be nominated for the Choice Music Prize without a physical release.
It turned out to be a brief, intense fire rather than a burning blaze, but for one beautiful year, The Cast Of Cheers looked set to be utterly massive.
Gemma Hayes - The Roads Don't Love You
On a day when everyone wants to be Irish, no album speaks more to the heart of an ex-pat like Gemma Hayes' 'The Roads Don't Love You'. Delivered with a wry smile and a rolled eye, 'The Roads Don't Love You' is Hayes' victory against writer's block and that overbearing feeling that comes with producing a second album.
Proving punchier, tracks like Happy Sad and Something In My Way are beautiful outlets of frustration - the slick pop-rock and sharp observation we've come to associate with her artistry and the decade. Hayes' husking vocal is as charming now as it was back then. Let's hope for new material this year.
Daniel O’Donnell - Daniel Does Dubstep
It was inevitable, given the northwest’s thriving hip-hop scene, that pop chameleon Daniel O’Donnell would take the road less travelled and once again show why he was a step ahead of the pack. Like Joe Dolan before him, O’Donnell transcended gender, age and class with nothing less than Alexandrian zeal.
As far back as ‘88 he was awarded the title of RTE Guide Favourite Country Artist of the Year - forty-five albums and numerous awards later, we found ourselves gloriously, inevitably, at 'Daniel Does Dubstep', and there was nary a Mary from Dungloe who wasn’t hanging of a pillar at the disco when this came over the PA.
Through twelve blistering cuts Daniel re-shaped the genre into something wholly new; Rusko’s Cockney Thug was transplanted to Buncrana, while the six-and-a-half minutes of Bassnectar’s Bass Head was stretched to double that and was all the better for it.
If you thought you knew the heights that Dubstep as a genre was capable of reaching, this changed everything; this record is indispensable, and completely redefining.
Chewing on Tinfoil - Marrowbone Lane.
The sophomore offering from Tallaght's Chewing on Tinfoil reflected growth and an air of maturity that wasn't seen on their far more frenetic debut.
Touching on themes of love, loss and the struggles of emigration, 'Marrowbone Lane' tackled topics that anyone could relate to.
The energy on tracks like Just Like Me and Sons & Mothers is boundless while the reflective nature of An Emigrant's Wake lyrics will resonate with people of all ages.
'Marrowbone Lane' shows Chewing on Tinfoil at their strongest - when they're singing about the issues that matters.