SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

Paul O’Brien – Long May You Sing – Stockfisch Records

Homage to Canadian songwriters gets a sonic upgrade.

Published on October 17, 2013

Paul O’Brien – Long May You Sing – Stockfisch Records

Paul O’Brien – Long May You Sing – Stockfisch Records SFR 357.40802 stereo-only SACD, 53:56 [7-19-2013] ****:

(Paul O’Brien – guitar, bowed psalter, vocals; Don Ross – guitar, dobro, fretless bass; Lutz Moller & Stefan Press – piano; Martin Huch – dobro; Ian Melrose – low whistle; Lea Morris – vocals; Beo Brockhausen – percussion, monochord; Grischka Zepf – electric bass, percussion; Hans-Jorg Maucksch – fretless bass)

The influence of Canadian singer/songwriters has permeated the folk/rock music scene. Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Gordon Lightfoot (among many others) have sustained exemplary careers. Their catalogs have been celebrated by a wide variety of international artists. The appeal of acoustic-based folk music has proliferated in Europe. Stockfisch Records (an upper-echelon German audiophile label) has become a center for this phenomenon. Singers and musicians from both hemispheres have decided to record with audiophile equipment.

Englishman Paul O’Brien has recorded an album of mostly Canadian (some well known, some eclectic) songwriters. On the opening cut, he covers Neil Young (“Long May You Run”) with plaintive melancholy. In a silky combination of acoustic guitar, dobro and fretless bass, he sings nostalgically of the past. Lea Morris (who is always brilliant) adds tender backup vocals. O’Brien’s lone original composition (“Silvia’s River”) follows with more remembrance and acknowledgements to Young (…”long may you run…”) and Joni Mitchell (…the river takes her back home…”). O’Brien selects “Big Yellow Taxi” as his Mitchell song. He adds some chord shifts at the end of the second chorus, and keeps it festive.

It is not easy to cover iconic songs. Occasionally it works (Jimi Hendrix’ ”All Along The Watchtower”, Judy Collins’ ”Suzanne”), sometimes it doesn’t. O’Brien’s version of “Hallelujah” captures the winsome spirituality of Leonard Cohen’s soul searching. O’Brien turns up the angst and it works. Conversely, Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” is credible, but too close to the original recording. A gospel piano (Stefan Pless) adds some emotional depth to the Sarah McLachlan classic “I Will Remember You”. Another high point is “Pacing The Cage/Creation Dream” (Bruce Cockburn).

O”Brien shines on some of the lesser known material. “Cold Missouri Waters” is simple, with guitar and voice telling a vivid story of firefighters. The storytelling vibe continues on the evocative travelogue “Northwest Passage”. His musical style integrates easily into narrative. The subtle framework of folk tunes is evident on the instrumentals. Switching to Ireland, “Lord Inchiquin” is pastoral with agile rhythm undertones. The finale (“A Song For All Seasons (Prayerful Hymn”) is a deeply moving reverie, graced with layered guitar and wordless backup vocals.

Like all of the Stockfisch releases, Gunter Pauler’s audio engineering is exceptional. The delicate tonal quality of the instruments is captured with pristine clarity and rich tones. Guitars, dobros and fretless basses are rendered with dulcet texture. O’Brien’s baritone sounds mellifluous, and changes in emotional timbre are subtle.

Long May You Sing is a good album, made even better by SACD technology.       

TrackList: Long May You Run; Silvia’s River; Jasper; Cold Missouri Waters; Hallelujah; Big Yellow Taxi; If You Could Read My Mind; I Will Remember You; Brooke’s Waltz; Pacing The Cage/Creation Dream; Northwest Passage; Lord Inchiquin; Sonny’s Dream; A Song For All Seasons (Prayerful Hymn)

—Robbie Gerson

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