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Jacqueline Patten of EDS

reviews Away in the West by Mick Ryan & Paul Downes

Both Mick Ryan and Paul Downes are talented musicians who are not always given the recognition that they deserve. Mick’s resonant voice transports the listener, while his song writing skills evoke a story, situation, or times past, that writers of any genre would envy. Paul has the ability to depict the lyrics, the tale, and the tone of a song, through an amazing array of arrangements and styles, as well as singing harmony vocals. Equally admirable is the way in which they both develop performing partnerships. Among others, Mick is known for his work with Pete Harris, while Paul’s duo with Phil Beer is difficult to surpass.

Of the fourteen songs on this album, the lyrics of all but one were written by Mick Ryan, the exception being ‘Greenland’, a traditional song learnt from A. L. Lloyd and arranged by Paul. Mick was also responsible for the music for the majority, assisted by Paul on two, while for a few a traditional tune is used. People familiar with Mick’s writing will not be surprised that the themes of poverty, hardship, separation, and loss form the basis for the stories he tells through song. His talent for creating a song out of these difficult, and sometimes very ordinary events, involves the audience and stirs the emotions almost without them being aware of it. Highlighting a few tracks is difficult, They are all memorable and moving for different reasons. ‘Love is Life’, written after the death of Mick’s father, is already widely sung by others. Another song, ‘The Bells Rang’, seems to be quintessentially English, a journey through a century, the passing of a life, and the impact of the chiming bells for every important occasion.

Before closing, praise must also be given to Jackie Oates, on viola, and Paul Hutchison, on accordion, whose contributions enhance the album.