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Review by Andrea Baldwin
Asleep at the Reel is a new constellation of old friends. While their debut album, The Emerald
Dream, gives a big nod to Ireland and its music, other preoccupations that resonate through are
Brisbane, the passing of time, and the endurance of love.
The title track, The Emerald Dream, laments the 2015 closure of the Queensland Irish Association premises in downtown Brisbane. This celebration of displaced Irishness continues with other numbers like Paddy’s Day Again. I will absolutely be stealing The Beating of the Drum – cheeky, playful and rambunctious – as a session song. Playfulness is also the keynote of The Red Dress. The narrator claims to be in an Irish band, singing IRA standard The Broad Black Brimmer, but the music subverts this back-story with Parisian-sounding smoky jazz: accordion and scrapey fiddle. Does the singer get the girl? You’ll have to listen to find out.
The album’s opening track is (The Irish in You and) The Gypsy in Me, a cheery gaze down memory lane, plugged in the liner notes as ‘love prevails through the wild times of youth’. While the tune tantalises with hints of other melodies – Steve Earl, the Dixie Chicks – it constantly flicks away, up or down from the almost-expected. A warm and steady fiddle rendition of The Banshee weaves through and takes over to finish, backing the assertion that ‘the oldest fiddle plays the sweetest tune’.
There’s The Queen of the Great Below, comparing a grandfather’s experience of whaling in Moreton Bay with his grandson’s ‘cargo of tourists’ taking aim with cameras rather than harpoons. The poppier Sweet Rain of Mercy features some nice chorally stuff in the choruses, and fun subtle mirroring between guitar and mandy.
A New Australia tells the familiar story of William Lane’s failed Utopia in Paraguay, but urges us a century later not to give up the dream of peace, brotherhood and justice. The Whiskey, another historical song, recreates 1970s Brisbane: ‘no doubt the boys in blue/ are taking their cut too’ when the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub is fire-bombed in an insurance scam.
The Bethany Bell is described as ‘a meditation on love and death’ inspired by John Donne’s poetry, but it’s a remarkably upbeat meditation with flighty instrumentation that bears listening to again and again. For toe-tapping cheerfulness, though, finale The Road takes the cake (and the parting glass). I was a fan of Mick Nolan’s voice in the dim dark past, and it’s thrilling to hear the tonal range that’s matured since I last heard him sing. Mark Cryle’s voice is clear, pleasant and relatable, and there’s an extraordinary sense of calm capability underlying all the instrumentation and back-up vocals. You know you’re in professional hands here. These folk may be asleep at the reel, but they’ll get you home safe.
Definitely give this one a burl.
Review by Warren Freeman
The Emerald Dream, by Asleep at the Reel, is a fine collection of songs in the Celtic
tradition but with a local, Brisbane and Australian, contemporary folk flavour. The songs have been
written by Mark Cryle, an acclaimed songwriter well known for his solo projects and as a
member of Spot the Dog. Mark’s lyrics connect with his audience through personal
anecdotes and themes we can all identify with (wild times of youth, getting through hard times,
good times on St Patricks Day, love and unrequited attraction). There are nods to the
Celtic tradition throughout the album.
The album includes songs about recent historical events in Brisbane: The Emerald Dream laments the closing of the Irish Club in 2015; The Whiskey refers to the firebombing of the Whiskey Au Go Gonightclub in 1973. There are also songs about whaling/whale watching and a failed utopian settlement following the 1891 shearers’ strike. The songs are great in their own right but provide a contribution to our social history as well.
Mark has surrounded himself with quality musicians who play well together and all shine in different songs. He shares the lead vocals with Mick Nolan who also plays bass. Rose Broe (Pirate Brides) plays accordion and provides backing vocals. Hugh Curtis plays some outstanding fiddle and mandolin. Suzanne Hibbs provides a deft touch, playing drums and percussion.
I heard the band at the BUG CD launch and they gave a polished live performance. The music would sound great in an Irish bar with a lively crowd, enjoying a few pints of Kilkenny. Many of the songs are made to sing along to.
The production by Michael Fix is excellent. The recorded versions of the songs have a live feel and the band sounds like they enjoy playing the songs.
I am enjoying the CD more with each listen. The songs that have touched me the most were the Bethany Bell (about love and mortality), The Emerald Dream, and the closing song, The Road. I imagine that The Road will be the final song played at Asleep at the Reel shows for years to come and is destined to become a favourite in the folk community.
The Emerald Dream is highly recommended.
Review by Dai Woosnam
(First Published in “The Living Tradition” Magazine.)
Crazy Moose Records CM03
This Anglo-German duo has a very strong following in and around The Potteries area,
and is now beginning to gain some degree of international recognition, well outside the
Staffordshire/Cheshire or even UK catchment area.
And Paul and Karen have done that latter ambition no harm with this mix of self-penned songs interspersed with the occasional Folk classic. The album arrives in a beautifully presented Digipak: one furthermore, that is a first for me, in that it features photos of exquisite sculptures of the duo’s heads (made by Gillie Nicholls at her Stafford studio).
From even first listening, one is aware that one is in the presence of two very skilled operators. (Three, if you include multi-instrumentalist and album producer Scott Ralph.)
The songs that the duo self-penned cover a range of subject matter, and are all as well-crafted as they are well-performed. Karen has a seriously impressive, mezzo-soprano voice: one that would not be out of place on the opera stage. Yet it is a singing voice that blends very well with Paul’s, and shows not a scintilla of a German accent, in that she sings mainly in RP English (although track 3 sees her sounding peculiarly Irish...or maybe I have my ears on wrong).
And those harmonies are quite stirring and almost Winter Wilsonish in beauty (particularly on the bridge of the title song, and the chorus of the powerful Peter Hames song, Ordinary Man).
Of the self-penned, the standout track is Lift This Weight. It is a song on the present industrial dereliction in Stoke-on-Trent, and a fond memory of very different days when there was the camaraderie to be cherished from what was otherwise a hard working life. Of the famous songs they have chosen to cover, they do very respectable versions of classics like Caledonia, What’s The Use Of Wings?, and The L&N Don’t Stop Here Any More: versions that don’t make me pine for the originals.
More at: their Website and on FACEBOOK