Album Review - The Alan Kelly Gang / Small Towns And Famous Nights

Not having yet seen The Alan Kelly Gang live, it is now most definitely on my list of things to do. If they work as hard on stage as they work on this their debut album, then it will be an evening well spent. These guys are working, playing, interacting and creating something special in the process and applying the word "Gang" in their name suggest a breaking away from the conventional. The band also include Tola Custy on fiddle, Steph Geremia on flute, whistles and vocals and Tony Byrne on guitar with Eddi Reader and others as guests.

The majority of tunes are relatively modern compositions from people like Frankie Gavin, Vincent Broderick, Máirtin O' Connor and of course Alan Kelly himself. Their music is a living breathing thing, like I have not heard in some time, with great vitality, mood changes, tempo changes and external influences that seep into the arrangements. Arrangements is indeed an apt word because what they have done here on a number of tracks hasn't been arrived at in some accidental way. It appears like it has been honed on the live circuit and then reworked in the studio to great effect.

Their music is quite intricate and detailed in its construction with tunes like Birdmaker crossing the border between finely crafted traditional music and orchestral work. There needs to be variety in the our listening pleasures and on Small Towns we have an album that covers a lot of ground and steps a little outside what we would expect. For me and no doubt many fans this is a welcome achievement.

On other tunes such as Breton Woods this is again evident with it's change of pace and some exquisite playing by all concerned. The music ebbs and flows and builds along a meandering path to its natural conclusion. Lest you forget that these musicians are traditional players at heart, they then drop back into more familiar territory for a set called Grounded Reels. Alan takes the lead with as delicate a touch as ever hitting those high registers in style. Tola Custy on fiddle joins and fades to be replaced by Steph Geremia on flute. Then back they all come building and building.

This is an album that should have mass appeal as it is stepping outside the stricter confines of some of their contemporaries in the approach taken. Golden Pipe is another beautiful track starting out in a flowing and leisurely style where you could envisage a beautiful dancer shimmering across the stage to the mesmeric tones of fiddle, flute and accordion. Song choices are perfect as well including Connemara which is, it must be said a bit more demanding on the listener. A bold choice for the album when no doubt many other easier choices existed. There are influences of Eddie Reader's previous life in the arrangements, again relatively modern and recently composed tunes to fit with the overall approach taken.

The creation of an album of this quality has opened the door for the Alan Kelly Gang and shows them to be a creative force beyond the confines of what we would consider the traditional album format. It will be interesting to see where they take it from here.

Buy and listen here

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