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Matthew Byrne Matthew Byrne
Album: Horizon lines
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 11

A quick scan of Canadian Roots magazines reveals comments such as 'Possibly the finest interpreter of traditional songs in the country', such is the esteem in which Matthew Byrne is held in his home country, indeed his second album, Hearts & Heroes saw him win the Traditional Recording of the Year Award at the 2015 Canadian Folk Music Awards.

Horizon Lines, his third release, is a magnificent selection of both originals and lush interpretations of traditional songs from both sides of the Atlantic, superbly produced by Billy Sutton. Born into a family of Newfoundland music makers, many of the tracks on the album have a nautical focus, unsurprising given the fact that it is said that the sea is in the blood of Newfoundlanders, and their music is rich with tales of life and love on the wild seas.

Opening track, Long Years Ago, a sea tale learnt from a recording of his grandmother singing, is a perfect introduction to his style - storytelling through song with sumptuous melodies, accomplished guitar work, but above all, the real instrumental jewel being his voice, here joined in joyous harmony by fellow Newfoundlander Teresa Ennis.

Go To Sea No More, a sailor's stark and heartbreaking lament for home as he reflects on his decision to choose a life at sea, is performed with great expression, as is Nancy From London, not only poignantly capturing as it does the fear and uncertainty of a sailor's wife as she awaits the safe return of her man, but also being vocally reminiscent of Nick Drake.

The version of Farewell To Tarwathie, the great whaling song, written in the mid 19th century by George Scroggie and made famous by Judy Collins, gives further ample opportunity to show off Byrne's considerable vocal talents, his clear, sonorous tone to the fore, over the perfectly judged instrumentation. Lumber Camps provide the inspiration for The River Driver, whilst Sarah Jane provides the memorable line from a blackbird who starkly says 'You might as well go home and sing your poem For you'll n'ere wed Sarah Jane'

One of the highlights of the set is one of the two songs on the release penned by Byrne. Adelaide This touching narrative song recounts the tale of an English naval officer who, in 1947, met and fell in love with a young woman in St John's Bay, only to subsequently lose track of her some months later. Keen to find out what had become of his love, he placed a letter in a St. John's paper; on being made aware of this, Matthew's father realised that the young lady was his late sister, who had died in 1949.

Wedding Waltz, composed by Byrne, is a memorable instrumental which also features Dardanelles bandmates Craig Young on dobro and Emilia Bartellas on fiddle. On Kitty Bawn O'Brien, Joe, Matthew's father, makes a special appearance to give a rendition of Allister MacGillivray's song of lost love that sounds uncannily like Eric Bogle.

With two unaccompanied songs, The Woods Of Truagh and album closer Jim Harris, the commanding quality and range of Byrne's vocals burst through like shafts of sunlight through forest trees.

This is a beautiful recording. Byrne is a master craftsman with a consummate ability to captivate and entrance. It is surely time for Canada to share this jewel in its treasure chest.

David Pratt