One of the great things about Patrick Street is that they are so dependable. Despite a few personnel changes and challenges over the years the central core has remained the same as has the musical ethos: Irish traditional music presented in a forthright manner with no gimmicks. Admittedly there are a lot of other influences apparent in the music but for the most part that doesn’t matter. Andy Irvine, for example, possesses one of the most unusual chord books around and has a wealth of eastern European musical knowledge, yet considers Woodie Guthrie to be a major influence. The pairing of Kevin Burke on fiddle and Jackie Daly on box, has been one of the most defining and endearing musical partnerships since the release of the Eavesdropper album. Ged Foley is the fourth musician; he brings absolutely-no-nonsense-guitar sensibilities and also contributes a couple of songs.
A cursory glance through the running order reveals a list of tunes common enough to the tradition, yet typically for Patrick Street the versions are lesser known and arranged with a beautiful easygoing feel which gives them both a sense of familiarity and a new breath of life. This album seems almost irrelevant given the modern Celticisms of the brave new wave but these old hands weave through a variety of styles with assurity and utter authority. Check out some of their invited guests — Steve Cooney, Bruce Molsky and Matt McElroy amongst others. Cal Scott turns a hand to the great brass arrangements.
There are ten pieces, including five songs. The individual maturity of each player shines through clearly as does the sophistication of the arrangements. Ultimately, nothing gets in the way of the music. There isn’t a note out of place and the pacing of the tunes comes like a breath of fresh air. The production qualities give a warm and personal feel to the music which result in a very satisfying listening experience. I might question the value of including a song like the “Diamantina Drover” given it’s prolific recorded history but hey, these guys can do whatever they want.
Patrick Street have always, I think, leaned toward the cross-over Irish/American styles. Kevin Burke has become one of the most influential figures in American fiddling and Irvine’s flirtations with old timey music are evident yet at core of the band’s sound is a devotion to Irish music that is both playful and reverent. The ease with which they deliver these pieces on Street Life is an abject lesson to every young band looking to achieve longevity in a very fickle marketplace. There was a time when each new Patrick Street album defined the session content of every Irish-music-type person in North America. Those days may have passed given the availability of other recordings but their new albums are always welcome and given some of the directions “Celtic music” is taking these days I think I’ll stick with the tried and true.
(Green Linnet, 2002)