Belfast based singer-songwriter Bernard McGinn (stage name Finn McGinn) is a law unto himself. The mission statement of this album aims to ‘re-mythologise’ Ireland through the telling of ballads and unpretentious tales, and spinning a yarn is indeed Bernard McGinn’s strong suit. He is a thoroughly Irish balladeer in a Stetson hat – Paddy-Americana if you will.
There is very strong love of place running through the veins of this record. There’s barely a song where some townland or village isn’t namechecked. McGinn is joined by some top quality musicians in the form of fiddler Sean Magee, who is let loose to great effect as is accordionist Ciara O’Neill. They, among other very talented people make up the motley crew known as the Muddguards. Frequent readers of Pure M will remember Finn McGinn and the Muddguards from the single ‘Get My Kicks’ (read it here).
The album opens with the titular track ‘Barnyard’s Barndance’. The first thing that becomes apparent, aside from the slightly over produced fiddle and bass is McGinn’s vocal quality – it’s a cross between Ronnie Drew and Duke Special. As unique and full of character as it is, one can’t help but feel it’s an affectation rather than something truly authentic. This suspicion is confirmed when we come to ‘Father’s Song’, in which McGinn’s previously strepsil-proof voice is replaced with a lilting Nordie croon which seems a better fit for him. This song is the heart and soul of the album. It is a gentle moment of solemnity and solace amid the boozy and buccaneering tall tales with otherwise characterises the record. This soft pious petition beseeches the heavens to harbour his father’s soul through what is strongly hinted to be an unkind death (the album is dedicated to McGinn’s late father).
‘Sinbad is Dead’ is another standout track. With its bouncing bassline and jaunty accordion, this tune tells the cheerful tale of the death of Sinbad’s lover Ruby. McGinn’s humour comes across in the longer ballads like this one. ‘Sinbad is dead, Sinbad is dead, as dead as dead can be’. Or in the briskly brutal tale of ‘Betty the Banshee’ who was sentenced to death for killing her son, but then landed a job as an executioner. The current single ‘Sligo Fair’ (see below), is a nod to the town’s past function as a prominent market town. This tune boasts some of that deftly beautiful fiddling by Magee which is unfortunately overshadowed by an unnecessary electronic beat. This aside, ‘Sligo Fair’ proves to be the most melodically developed song, vocally at least.
The downsides of this album lie in the excessively slick nature of the instrumentation – which is a shame really, as the musicians are certainly good enough without all the polishing, and some of the earthiness and rustic charm of the tunes seem somewhat laminated with all the re-touching. Rough edges are the heart and soul of any raconteur and Finn McGinn is too big for the box he’s trying to fit in. Going for the novelty factor in the company of such fine musicians seems a bit of a waste.