Michelle Eisenberg (MMEPhilly)
Thunderous Applause for “Acoustically Irish”!
The much-anticipated album from Neil Byrne and Ryan Kelly is finally here! After three successful tours of their “Acoustic by Candlelight” show, Neil and Ryan surprised their fans with the news that they spent their down time from Celtic Thunder working on an album. Are these great guys who love their fans or what?!
I bought “Don’t Go” as a single from iTunes, physical CDs of “Acoustically Irish” from CDBaby and Amazon, as well as a digital download of the album from Amazon. I highly recommend buying the actual CDs, as there are gorgeous, artistic photos of the dynamic duo on the CD face itself, with several different images on the cover and inside liner notes.
The 11 tracks on “Acoustically Irish” vary from well-known classic tunes, such as “The Water is Wide” and “The Fields of Athenry,” to modern hits from Irish artists, like Hothouse Flowers’ “Don’t Go” and “Beautiful Affair” by Stockton’s Wing. Even listeners unfamiliar with any Irish music will embrace this album once they hear the duo’s catchy cover of universally known “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison.
Every time I thought I had a favorite track, the next song came on and my heart was lost again. Each track is perfect, making you feel as if Neil and Ryan wrote each song themselves (this would not be a surprise as they are both accomplished songwriters).
One of my favorite Celtic Thunder recordings is “The Green Fields of France,” found on the “Take Me Home” CD. I never got to hear CT perform it live, so I was awed when Ryan sang a new cover of the song during the “Acoustic by Candlelight” gigs. On “Acoustically Irish,” Ryan takes lead vocals on “No Man’s Land,” with a heartbreaking a cappella first verse, with soft guitar playing joining him on the chorus.
So glad they included “Captured” after it was a huge hit with fans when Neil posted an acoustic cover of it on YouTube last year. But here there are additional instruments and Neil has made this song, originally performed by Brian Kennedy, his own. Neil captured my heart long ago – after hearing this, it’s no wonder why!
I loved “Brown Eyed Girl” when Neil performed it with both “Acoustic by Candlelight” and with Celtic Thunder. But here, Ryan also joins in on this fan favorite and they gave it a real “Irish” feel with fiddle and mandolin, in addition to guitars. Even made this song my new cell phone ringtone!
I love how Ryan’s passion and energy come through on “Back Home in Derry.” Such a great song choice for him!
I truly believe “The Water is Wide” is Neil’s best vocal work yet on any of his albums, either solo or with Celtic Thunder. He’s refined his voice and you can tell he really feels the lyrics. He kept the arrangement simple – just piano and his beautiful, tear-inducing voice. No one does a sweet, sentimental love song better than Neil!
So glad they included “Beautiful Affair” and “The Rose of Allendale,” two of my favorite songs from their ABC shows, and Neil also sang the latter during Celtic Thunder’s summer residency in Atlantic City in 2012. But here, Ryan joins Neil and turns “The Rose of Allendale” into an amazing duet.
They made an interesting choice of Paddy Casey’s “Saints and Sinners” as the final track on the album. They did an awesome job with it, ending on an up-tempo tune, but I’m curious as to what they mean with this parting message. Are they simply closing out “Acoustically Irish” with a catchy, motivational tune to tell fans, just one year after Ryan’s life-changing accident in his home, that life is short, chase your dreams and “go and be a star”?
Neil and Ryan have obviously learned where their strengths are musically, and “Acoustically Irish” beautifully showcases that. They know what songs their enthusiastic fans love to hear and it’s evident they took fan input from their “Acoustic by Candlelight” gigs, YouTube videos and messages on social media when compiling “Acoustically Irish.” They also know what types of songs suit their voices and styles, and what they can convincingly interpret to their listeners, especially evident on “The Water is Wide,” “The Rose of Allendale” and “On Raglan Road.” They don’t just sing a song –they truly feel each lyric and note in every song.
Celtic Thunder was instrumental in putting this CD together, as CT Band members Nicole Hudson (violin and viola), Declan O’Donoghue (percussion), Barry Kerr (tin whistle) and Seamus Brett (piano on two tracks) lent their amazing talents to this authentic Irish album. I especially love Nicole’s awesome fiddle work on “Don’t Go” and how her violin poignantly enhances the sentimental songs like “On Raglan Road.”
However, it’s Neil – ever the multi-instrumentalist – who recorded the majority of music heard on “Acoustically Irish,” contributing guitars, bass, piano and mandolin, as well as arranged the songs with Ryan. Neil also produced the album. Not sure when this gifted lad sleeps when he was even in the studio mixing the album!
But even with the added instruments beyond the guitars, tin whistle and tambourine the guys play at their gigs, the instrumentation here only compliments the true selling point of this album: Neil and Ryan’s gorgeous harmonies.
With its diverse track list, this album would make a great gift to new Irish music lovers, and it also makes long car rides more enjoyable with the many sing-along up-tempo tunes (“Don’t Go,” “Back Home in Derry,” “Brown Eyed Girl,” Paddy Casey’s “Saints and Sinners”).
However, I do wonder why fan favorites “Wagon Wheel” and “Rock ‘n Roll Kids” weren’t included on this album. I really thought “Rock ‘n Roll Kids” was left off the Celtic Thunder “Mythology” CD in order for Neil and Ryan to eventually do an acoustic recording of it. Are they saving these songs for a second album (wishful thinking)? Or will both songs be on a future Celtic Thunder album? I can only hope, because I absolutely adore their live versions and videos of both of these songs.
Additionally, since “Acoustically Irish” was born out of their pub gigs, at least one live track recorded one of their tours would have been a nice touch. But, given the tight time frame they were working with, it’s understandable this couldn’t happen. Maybe a live recording – both music and banter – on your next venture, guys?
Neil and Ryan, congratulations on an absolutely wonderful, diverse, well thought out album! I am so truly proud of you both! You sound so wonderful on “Acoustically Irish”! It amazes me how far you’ve both come vocally and artistically over the past seven years – but it doesn’t surprise me. From the day I first discovered Celtic Thunder, it was you two who secured my eternal dedication as a fan. Fans are only beginning to see your talents emerge!
Wishing you both continued success wherever your dreams and music take you!
A great album for Irish, acoustic and folk lovers!
By far, the strongest draw of "Acoustically Irish" is the pristine blend of Neil and Ryan's voices. Individually, they are both strong soloists, but they are singers who are extremely talented at blending. Their harmonies are beautiful, and easily the best part of the album.
At both ends of the album and right smack in the middle, you'll find three up-tempo tracks that you'll love. Replete with fun harmonies, all three are a joy to listen to. Don't Go has a cool banjo-y feel to the chorus, Saints and Sinners has the best cadence, and Brown-Eyed Girl is peppy and fun with guaranteed snapability.
But, my favorites on the album are some of the ballads. All of these are made so very beautiful by the harmonies infused into the choruses. I'm not just putting you on; they are achingly lovely. Beautiful Affair, such a sweet song, is my favorite on the entire CD, but Rose of Allendale comes close on its heels.
In the end, if you like good music, if you like male gorgeously-blended voices, if you like acoustic-y goodness, Irish tunes, or anything with a slightly folksy feel, this is the album for you. Enjoy!