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Kevin T Ward of Shire Folk

reviews Away in the West by Mick Ryan & Paul Downes

This is the third collaborative venture by singer/songwriter Mick Ryan with Paul Downes as principal musical accompanist, after Grand Conversation and The Navvy's wife, following his many 'duo' albums with Pete Harris and his celebrated 'folk operas'.

His song writing themes are expansive: in essence, the continuum of life and death, as witnessed through the seasonal cycles of nature and experienced by humankind through love and war, work and play. Oppression and suffering, freedom, and love are leitmotifs. These are explored through song stories inspired by folk inheritance, local history and direct personal experience including the BBC's The People's Century, a joyful musical visit to the media maligned 'bandit country' of South Armagh, archive playbills at Waveney Folk Club, the Workhouse Museum at Southwell, and the legend of 11th century viticulture at Cape Cod. Resulting pieces delineate the workhouse experience, 19th century travelling players, the annual cycle of whaling, the symbolism of the lark, and the seasonal farming cycle yoked to matters of war, death and resurrection.

Excellently balanced and recorded, Mick's rich baritone voice and delivery of the story is central. However, the beautifully arranged embellishment provided by Paul Downes - mainly on guitar, but also acoustic bass guitar, mando-cello and banjo - is exemplary in its sensitivity and grace. Perfectly judged and crafted, rhythmically and harmonically, it includes some exquisite detail and filigree touch. Paul also adds harmony vocals. Additional support, again with perfect empathy and discretion, comes from Jackie Oates (5 string viola) and Paul Hutchinson (accordion).