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Jacqueline Patten of EDS

reviews Grand Conversation by Mick Ryan & Paul Downes

When two noted musicians form a new duo, the debut album is awaited with expectation, and some trepidation, by devotees of both. For many reading this review, this was the case with this album which brings together Mick Ryan and Paul Downes. The former is a superb singer, talented writer, and excellent arranger of traditional songs, while the latter’s skill on a range of stringed instruments is hard to better.
Of the fourteen songs, nine were written by Mick, the majority for one or other of his shows. ‘Reprisals’ and ‘Green Island’ were written for The Voyage about 19th century emigration from Ireland to America. The line ‘salute you dear old Ireland in a song’ in ‘Green Island’ reflects how important the homeland becomes in the memory of the emigrants, and gives insight into how and why Irish music has been spread throughout the world.

‘The Lark Above The Downs’ and ‘The Lazy Man’ are about the Great War; ‘Put Them Down’ about transportation; while ‘Sleep of Death’ and ‘Land of Cockayne’ draw on folk tales for their themes. ‘Thomas Brassey’ is a tribute to a forgotten hero, a railway engineer and contractor who played as important a role as Brunel in the history of the railways. Mick’s songs are guaranteed to provoke thought and a response from the listener.

Four of the other tracks are traditional, arranged by Mick and Paul, and include the favourites ‘The Bell Ringing’ and ‘Young Men All’, while ‘The Light’ about the tin mine in Geevor, Cornwall, has words by Mick set to music by Joni Mitchell.

With Mick’s resonant and clear voice and Paul’s fine arrangements and playing of a variety of stringed instruments as well as providing vocal backing, the combination is compelling listening.

Having seen them live, I looked forward to hearing the album; it surpassed expectations.