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Maurice McGrathMaurice McGrath
Album: Winsome Ways
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 8

Winsome can be something of a misunderstood word – and for some reason it can sometimes be taken as mildly disparaging, even though its normal meaning is merely “attractive or appealing in a fresh, innocent, often childlike way”. But then, at the risk of an obvious pun, this CD is also symptomatic of an even more literal interpretation, i.e. that you win some (and by implication lose some), for it could be summed up as an album of mixed fortunes artistically speaking. Let me expand on that…

Its eight songs are all original compositions by Maurice, a Dublin-based singer-songwriter with a warm and gently soulful, sometimes pleasantly husky singing voice and genial, respectful style of self-accompaniment. I get the impression it’s his debut album, since his website contains no reference to any previous records. However, I thought I was mistaken in this, for I was sure I’d come across his name before. On both website and this disc’s press release it’s mentioned that a handful of his songs have already been recorded, by artists such as Cherish The Ladies, Frances Black and Niamh Parsons – the latter’s Kind Providence album with Graham Dunne then providing the source for my memory of the harrowing The Road To La Coruña (which was a highlight of that album).

Maurice’s songs are self-evidently capably crafted, and distil those elements of traditional song and ballad that predominantly concern themselves with past generations, for he has a keen sense of place and history. On the evidence of the songs on this particular CD, Maurice certainly has the knack of writing a catchy chorus/refrain, as demonstrated on Ballad Of Luke Ryan (the story of a Co. Dublin pirate), the lilting Strawberry Beds (a depiction of a picturesque spot near Chapelizod village just outside Dublin, a popular excursion destination for Dubliners in the early 1900s), and (especially) Willy (and yes, he does mean Willie!) Clancy And The Pipes, the tale of an Irishman who emigrated to London in the 1950s to seek labouring work, a man who in the evenings just happened to hear Willie Clancy, the renowned uilleann piper from County Clare, playing in a nearby pub. There’s sometimes a touch of the mischievous side of Colum Sands about Maurice’s melodies, as in the latter example, and the opening (title) song and A band Of Gold both possess a simple eloquence befitting their tales of romance. Maybe in some other cases the tunes don’t always quite match in memorability terms the strength of the words or the images conjured, but that’s by way of a comparison rather than a consistent value-judgement.

Maurice plays all instruments himself, including guitar, mandolin, low whistle, organ and bass, and for the most part the backdrops he conjures are both sensitively balanced and all the more effective for their simplicity. Michelle Burrowes provides the attractive backing vocals. The ghost story Eve Of All Souls employs a more complex arrangement, but this works to the song’s advantage. Only on Shackleton (which retells the story of the noted polar explorer), does Maurice allow background effects to get in the way of the story and its delivery.

My chief criticism of this pleasing disc and its charming songs is its unexpected brevity (it clocks in at just under half an hour) – that’s where I’d say we “lose some”! In view of the number of Maurice’s songs covered so far by other artists (as proudly detailed on his website), I’d have welcomed the inclusion of “his master’s voice” versions of those songs to fill out this disc to a more reasonable CD length. As a relatively minor inconvenience in addition, listeners will also need to note the transposition of tracks 6 and 7 on the actual disc compared to the running order given in the booklet notes.

David Kidman