Let's face it: Finbar Furey is a legend. Anyone who has spent any time at all enjoying Celtic music knows the Fureys—of which Finbar was, or course, one of the major players, along with his brothers, Eddie, Paul and George. But after nearly 30 years as the Fureys' front man, Finbar decided to embark on a solo career.
Colours is his latest endeavor, a real treat gifted to the world and seems to me to be more a collection of sweet and sometimes sad stories than just songs. That of course isn't discounting the wonderful musician that Finbar is, or the talent he compiled to help him with this musical effort. I am truly and wholly impressed with this album, and feel quite blessed to have been given the honor of this review.
I could also spout interesting facts such as Finbar being directly instrumental (pun intended) in the creation of the Overton Flute (also known as the low whistle), an instrument now played in nearly every Irish band and one I wish I knew about before I learned to play the rather dull traditional flute oh so many years ago. Finbar plays the low whistle beautifully, of course. He is also a champion Uillean piper, being the only person ever to win the All Ireland, Oirechtas medal and the 4 province titles in the same year. He's still considered one of the best in the world. Yeah, he plays amazingly.
But incredible instrumental talent isn't the man's only forte. Colours proves that at the young age of 65, Finbar's voice is so incredibly sexy with that wonderful Irish lilt combined with a gravelly breathiness…well, let's just say it just does something special to this Celtic music lover. Whew, is it hot in here? Pour me a cold Guinness, would ya love?
After Sunday Mass—This song tells the story of love lost—perhaps not only in referring to a lass, but also in having to leave one's beloved home in order to find work. The musical accompaniment is surprisingly happy for the sad nature of the song and reminds me of sitting on a beach in Hawaii, watching suntanned surfers while drinking Mai Tais. I think the upbeat melody might just be Finbar's testimony to the enduring spirit of the Gaels.
School Days Over—This song tells the story of having to grow up and move on to those responsible adult things we'd all honestly like to avoid. Finbar's voice is more seductive on this track and gives one the shivers—if you're a woman such as myself who might be prone to such things, that is. I love the banjo, yet another instrument this accomplished musician excels at, and one heard on nearly every track of Colours. This ditty is almost too short at just over two minutes. Perhaps Finbar realized a woman's cardiovascular system can only take so much sexiness at one time.
Colours—The title track of this album is a happy toe-tapping piece, one that had me swaying in my chair while listening to a description of the beauty one might see in life. You can really hear and feel the smile in the singer's voice, a rarity in a song and something to cherish. Finbar also has a chance to show off his incredible talent on the low whistle here. Wonderful piece.
Walking With My Love (with Mary Black)—Mary's breathy, sultry voice is a perfect match for Finbar's goosebump-inducing male counterpart. They sing so well together, I picture Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire dancing gaily around the city at sunset. There is a brilliant moment in the song when Mary giggles like a schoolgirl, so completely spontaneous and so carefree that I laughed right along with her. And once again, Finbar's banjo talent is showcased here, and with background harmonica, keyboards, guitar and percussion, this song is a peppy dance in the park.
One Last Pay Day—This beauty is full of the elements that make a classic blues song, well, a blues song. Sadness and resignation permeate, yet the typical Celtic people's response of "grasp that thread of hope whilst sliding down the slippery slope of doom" prevails. I believe the lyrics of this song speak to the Irish depression of the 20's when so many men (and families) of the Land of Saints and Scholars were forced to leave their homeland and head to "greener pastures."
Blowin' In The Wind—Yes, this is a cover of the old hit by Bob Dylan, but the low whistle and Finbar's vocals turn the old civil rights anthem into something much, much better. Finbar is a Bob Dylan fan, and truly transforms the 1963 hit song into something even a die-hard Dylan groupie would love.
Rivers of Steel (with Shayne Ward)—Truly touching, this song speaks of a man telling his beloved parent goodbye at the graveside, regret and pain dripping onto the song like a cascade of tears. This treasure mists my own eyes every time I hear it. A surprising sweetness is added to the song by the very talented pop singer Shayne Ward, but with such lyrics as "…and love beyond a word, for my soul, you've bled your own, thank me for being your son," one can't help but shed a tear or twenty at the poignancy. I have to say this one is at the top of my favorites.
Whiskey Come To Me On Sunday—The melody for this piece is haunting, a bluesy, depressed sort of tune. But the lyrics are almost comical, speaking of starting the drudgery of another work week once more. I laughed out loud the first time I heard "had me a wife once in my life. Drank more than me, now that ain't right." A blues song that makes you smile…a novelty, to be sure.
Begging Change On The Street—I have a confession: Whenever I hear a banjo at the beginning of a song, I automatically smile and start the toe-tapping. I just can't help it, and this is a bit of fun and a happier tune than most on the album. And what's not to love with lyrics like "I found me a woman that just loves control and I love her money, heart and soul"?
Dan O'Hara—This traditional Irish ballad almost makes you feel guilty for enjoying the simple instrumental and soft percussion. The sad story is told of Dan O'Hara, the "brokenhearted farmer" who was evicted from his home in the 1800's and forced to immigrate to the United States, losing his wife and three children to starvation and disease on the trip. Once again, Finbar's husky voice lends a poignancy not matched by others who have performed this same trad.
Once When I Was—An absolutely beautiful ballad, this original tells the story of an old crow who can no longer fly. Once again, I was deeply moved by the emotion in Finbar's voice. I dare you to get through this one without a tear or two. Not only is this my personal favorite track on the album, it has also become one I've added to my playlist to listen to again and again.
Waltzing Matilda—This Australian folk song has never been one of my favorites, but I have to say I'll make an exception with this gem. This is not the usual overdone version of the song and as soon as I heard the banjo, I knew it was definitely more special. And apparently Finbar agrees, as several times you can hear him spontaneously chuckle, forcing a smile from the listener.
The Ballad For George Best—A tribute to a footballer called the "greatest player to ever pull on the green shirt of Northern Ireland," Finbar certainly honors the legend with his incredible song-writing talent. Halfway through the song a keyboard accompaniment changes the tone, making it even more epic. I can picture a pub full of fans, arms wrapped around shoulders, singing along with this as tears stream down their faces. Pure brilliance.
The Old Man—This very popular song was originally written and recorded by the immensely talented Phil Coulter. Finbar takes it and makes it his own…as well he should, since Phil wrote the song in tribute to Finbar's father, Ted, and what we are treated to is nothing short of spectacular. Low-octave keyboards, soft acoustic guitar and banjo, gentle percussion and of course the unique vocals all make this a wonderful testimony to Ted Furey's legacy. He would be well proud of his son, I have no doubt.
Up By Christchurch And Down By St. Patrick's And Home—I felt like I was at an Irish wake with this one, which is really fitting, considering Finbar composed it with the late piper Johnny Doran in mind. It is mostly instrumental, with some background "chanting." What makes up the majority of this is some of the best Uilean pipe playing you'll ever be privileged to hear. It's so good, you almost don't miss Finbar's voice or his amazing banjo playing on this track. Almost.
Honestly, I really can't do justice to Colours with this inadequate review. You'll have to just trust me and buy it yourself. I promise you won't be disappointed. I have to shove off now…I’m feeling the need for a pot of tea and a scone or two.
Celtic Radio Contributor
Celtic Radio Comments:
5 Stars to Finbar's Colours! A rich and colorful masterpiece of musical talent that should not be missed!