Tony Christie and RanagriTony Christie and Ranagri
Album: The Great Irish Songbook
Label: Wrasse
Tracks: 12

I have had the good fortune to watch Ranagri perform a number of times. This album achieves the near impossible task of capturing the energy and intimacy of live performance. Well played and beautifully recorded, the songs are stunningly executed from a purely instrumental viewpoint. The addition of Christie's rich tenor sits so comfortably alongside the music that it would be easy to believe this collaboration had a much deeper history. In some ways this isn't far from the truth as the album traces its roots back over three decades to a chance meeting.

The possible repertoire for an album of Irish songs is immense and the sample here cuts across a broad cross-section. There are tales of lost love, laments, and moments of nostalgia alongside joyous reminiscences of true love won. The variety is compelling for any listener that might want to follow the collection from start to finish. Equally, each of the tunes are strong enough to stand alone for those that would prefer to dip into the album.

Among my favourite arrangements on the album is 'She Moved Through the Fair'. It has the quality of a march with militaristic percussion supporting the exquisite opening solo. The drums build to a satisfying thunderous sonority whilst the sound of bleating pipes feeds into the battlefield imagery. Somehow, far from drawing away from the vocal, this only serves to highlight the haunting melody as it meanders over the underlying drone. This definitely takes a place among my favourite settings of the tune.

The album is full of contrast and shifting textures. The version of 'When You Were Sweet Sixteen' wouldn't be out of place on a West End stage. 'Star of the County Down' drives forward and the flute that makes this a stand-out song is the perfect electrifying counterpoint to the main vocal. Different again are the bright, impish instrumental interjections on the track 'Spancil Hill'. The element, however, that unifies these strands is the sensitive relationship between Christie's voice and the ensemble.

A personal favourite, 'The Parting Glass', draws this collection to a close. This sweet farewell features a gentle crescendo and subtle syncopation that softly leads the tune onwards to its end. Christie's voice is soothing, warm, and intimate in a slightly lower register as he peacefully rounds off this project.

Lee Cuff

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