Fans of Irish folk music and modern guitar pop were in for a treat Friday night when Paul Brady, Irish singer-songwriter and personal favorite of Bob Dylan, performed a two-hour set to a packed audience in Crowell Concert Hall.
Brady, an eclectic instrumentalist who alternated regularly between two acoustic guitars and a silver Yamaha keyboard, played songs selected from a discography spanning to years of composition, treating the audience to a series of mostly light ballads that illustrated his own history as much as the history of his native Ireland.
A guitar player since the age of 11, Brady became a musician in earnest when he began performing in a succession of R&B and Soul bands in college, with such names as the Inmates, the Kult, and Rootzgroup. Soon after graduation, he shifted his focus to traditional Irish music, which has for the most part remained his genre of choice. During the 80’s he released a series of albums—including “True for You,” “Back to the Centre,” and “Primitive Dance”—which collectively established him as one of Ireland’s most eminent musical talents. It was also during the eighties that prominent American musicians, most notably Bob Dylan, covered some of Brady’s more popular songs.
“That last song [”Arthur McBride and the Sergeant“] was really meaningful for me, because it’s a song my mom has always played,” said Jacob Milstein ’09, commenting during intermission. “She plays guitar, and she’s been covering that song since before I was born. Listening to Brady play it felt like a flashback.”
Professor of Sociology Rob Rosenthal, who introduced Brady, expressed a similar appreciation for the songwriter.
“I was astounded when I first heard ‘The Island,’” he said. “Brady managed to compress both a haunting portrait of sectarian violence and a love story into a single song. Most impressively, he made it work.”
Such mixing and mating of disparate themes is typical of Brady’s lyrics. In “Blue World,” another apostrophe addressed to an unnamed lover, Brady expressed ambivalence about both their relationship and his role as a lyricist: “I ain’t got time to be your hero / I don’t wanna be your poet.”
Brady also expressed ambivalence about lyrical complexity itself, describing his influences and musical preferences while bantering with the audience.
“These are my favorite lyrics: whoo-whoo-whoo,” he said.
His instrumentation was far less varied. Although he switched regularly between his two guitars and keyboard—often impulsively, at one point strumming a few chords on one guitar before suggesting brightly: “Hey, let’s move to the piano”—he rarely strayed from classically poppy song structures, wrapping his more interesting progressions around familiar choruses that bounced off of well-worn refrains. He even kept his keyboard on one setting for the entire performance: a soft electronic hum reminiscent of a sitcom theme song from the mid-80’s.
But the audience didn’t seem to mind. In the end, it was Brady’s banter, delivered in a husky North Irish accent, which forgave him of any musical transgressions. Perhaps most charming of all was Brady’s rebuttal to his critics.
“They’re the Whoa people,” he said. “They’re the people who say ‘Whoa’ when you try to do anything—’Whoa, you can’t do that.’”