You could be forgiven for thinking (on the basis of their album cover) that the Paul McKenna Band were the folk scene’s answer to ‘Westlife’. But then there’s only so many ways you can photograph five twenty-something guys against an urban backdrop I suppose.
‘Between Two Worlds’ is a fantastic debut album from a band who have been steadily working towards complete domination of the Scottish Folk scene for the past 3 years or so. This reviewer (though I can’t speak for the rest of the band’s fan-base), is willing to overlook the omission of ‘Take My Hand’ from the final track-list. For me, the song has become the band’s signature tune – as well as being one of David McNee’s most finely crafted songs. But I’ll stop raving on about it, as it’s not on the album.
Folk albums can often find themselves treading a fine line over the balance between tunes & songs, and then of course traditional vs. original material. ‘Between Two Worlds’ sees traditional song making up the bulk of the material on the album – McKenna’s unique arrangement of ‘The Jolly Beggar’, is a million miles away from Planxty’s famous telling of the bawdy tale and is proof of the McKenna Band’s innate ability to make each performance very much their own. ‘Carnloch Bay’ is a driving & stirring soundscape – and a fine example of the ‘Power-Folk’ genre this band are slowly carving out for themselves.
There is sometimes a certain degree of self importance and pretension that pervades amongst traditional balladeers. Not so here though, indeed it is the refreshingly down to earth honesty of performance on top of their inventive and original takes on the traditional, which endears audiences to ‘The Paul McKenna Band’.
The tune sets on the album should not go without mention either, the band are all highly accomplished instrumentalists, as well as being in the company of this year’s ‘Young Traditional Musician Of The Year’, Fiddler Ruairidh MacMillan.
Faithful followers of the band (or even just occasional audience members) should be familiar by now with Ruairidh’s tale of “Henry the Lobster” (I’ll not re-tell it here), and will be pleased to note that ‘The Lobster Set’ made the final cut. Indeed the majority of the tunes are MacMillan originals, along with a couple from Seán & Robyn Gray. Such soundscapes are unrivaled in the world of tune!
I would also add that Ewan Baird is undoubtedly one of the finest percussionists on the folk scene, and should not be overlooked when searching for the key to the band’s success. I’ve seen them live on many occasions – and am yet to find Ewan on an off day (saying that though, I’m yet to find the band on an off day).
‘Between Two Worlds’ is a beautifully produced album, but when you’re co-crediting Dick Gaughan – one should expect no less. The standard of performance (and production) you might expect from a third or fourth album, but for a debut album – this is surely a sign of great things to come. Truly, they are ambassadors for Glasgow (and Scotland’s) traditional music scene.
Make no mistake, the rise (and rise) of ‘The Paul McKenna Band’ has only just begun!