Jimmy MacCarthy writes poetic songs some of which are the best ever written in an Ireland that is not short of literary genius; Bright Blue Rose, No Frontiers, Ride On and Mystic Lipstick to name but four of his greatest songs. He can conjure an image, craft a parable and rhyme words that no one would dare to bring near the art of songwriting. Serially covered by the likes of Mary Black, Tommy Fleming and The Corrs might have blunted his credibility. Listen to the cathartic blues of Christy Moore singing Ride On (“draw the claw along my gut, one last time”) or Mary Coughlan’s haunting Ancient Rain and you will get a glimpse of the power of the songs. Remember that it all began for MacCarthy with Moving Hearts singing his tribute to the tragedy that was Dublin’s Stardust nightclub, Strain of The Dance, and you soon lose the shallow sentimentality that sadly might be a total misreading stereotype of this man’s art.
Hey Ho Believe is an dubious record title and the album cover isn’t much better BUT if you are smart enough to not judge a record by its cover then you will discover that the eight years we have yearned for a MacCarthy album has been well worth the wait. It is by far his best sounding record. Gone are the strings that tended to clutter and hide the edge. Donal Lunny is in the production seat and he makes it so much more organic. Indeed the electric guitar that cuts through Switzerland In Snow opens up all kinds of exciting possibilities. Lunny becomes for MacCarthy a Lanois or a Burnett, a producer who knows what he needs, knows how to bring the best out. Hey Ho Believe is MacCarthy at his best.
McCarthy has always steeped his songs in the spiritual. Ireland is a land that until very recently was a Catholic country and MacCarthy’s generation might have become disillusioned with the institution but the thread of faith remains and in MacCarthy’s work. Indeed, in his book Ride On he wrote of Christian Telephone, the closer here, “I still passionately believe in the necessity for the existence of a Christian ministry and society, to provide a house where we can collectively talk to our maker in times of tribulation and jubilation.” Nowhere better does this find song than in Tears Of Picardy where he gives humanity her best potential in the spiritual;
“with forgiveness compassion love and understanding
We can be all that we can be.”
It ain’t Phosphorescent or Sufjan Stevens but if you can rise above trend and hip then here is a songwriter at the peak of his powers leading you into and through sacred ground. Enjoy the pilgrimage!