Sensitive Souls EP by Neil Byrne Reviews

Sensitive Souls EP by Neil Byrne

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Celtic Thunder's Neil Byrne Demonstrates His Radio Readiness With the Aptly Named Sensitive Souls

Nov 4, 2010 (Updated Nov 4, 2010)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Sadie Jones and I, tender love songs, excellent voice and instrumentation

Cons:only four songs

The Bottom Line: Neil Byrne steps into the spotlight with this solo EP.


Anyone who’s watched one of Celtic Thunder’s DVDs is familiar with dizzyingly talented instrumentalist Neil Byrne, though it’s only in the last few months that he has been highlighted as a lead vocalist alongside George Donaldson, Ryan Kelly, Paul Byrom, Keith Harkin and Damian McGinty. With the group’s last two releases, It’s Entertainment and Celtic Thunder Christmas, Neil has stepped up to do solo and group numbers, while the current tour has him switching off among guitars, drums and vocals. I’m trying to recall if he leaves the stage at any point in the concert; certainly, he’s up there longer than any of the main quintet, and only Brendan Monaghan, who plays a variety of traditional Celtic instruments, comes close to him in terms of showing off his musical diversity.

When I heard that Neil had an EP out, I was excited. Initially, it was only available to download, but I held out for the physical CD, which I was able to order on the very day that I went to my second Celtic Thunder concert. I’d spoken with Neil very briefly after last year’s concert, and before this year’s, I had the chance for a slightly more leisurely conversation, during which I mentioned that I’d ordered his EP, for which he seemed genuinely grateful. It’s interesting that his first album came out within a month of Ryan’s; like his fellow Celtic Thunder member, Neil projects a sense of palpable excitement that this personal project has been completed and is now out there for the world to enjoy.

I received my copy of Neil’s album six days after I ordered it, which coincidentally was the very day that Ryan’s came out. Sensitive Souls arrived in a padded envelope direct from Ireland, along with a jaunty photograph of Neil perched on a bike, wearing an impish grin and a tweed cap. At this time, you can get the MP3 version of Neil’s album from such sites as Amazon and iTunes, but for the physical album, you need to go to www.neilbyrnemusic.com, where several package deals are offered; just the CD itself costs $8.99, with no additional tax or shipping charges. Although there are only four songs on the CD, this seemed pretty reasonable to me, especially considering the fact that it would have to cross an ocean to get here.

The album comes in a simple cardboard case. The cover shows a black-and-white photo of Neil atop a stack of what look like old love letters, which fits especially well with the album’s first track, Sadie Jones and I; I later discovered that the photograph I had received is featured in the music video for that song. The interior gives us a double dose of Neil in a more modern pose, as he appears to be cradling a boombox, or perhaps an amplifier. This same image shows up on the back, but with a close-up on his hands. While there’s very little in the way of liner notes, the back cover credits Ewa Danowska with the photography, AMP Visual with art direction and Michael Keeney as co-producer of the album. It also notes who wrote each song. His website does offer more in the way of background, particularly on the Sadie Jones and I video, which is one of the sweetest professional music videos I‘ve ever watched. Also illuminating are the About section and his introductory video from September.

Sadie Jones and I - This song has a refreshingly innocent vibe to it that’s amplified upon watching the video, which consists of black-and-white still photographs meant to evoke the 1950s, with occasional splashes of color or a quick succession of pictures to create an animated effect. It was shot in Howth, which is one of the few places in Ireland that I’ve actually seen up close, or semi-up close, anyway; we passed it on the ferry on the way to Dublin, close enough to get a pretty good look at the houses dotting the landscape. With some costumes from the National Theatre of Ireland and a bus built in 1948, the video captures the bucolic beauty of bygone days and the exuberance of a first and lasting love.

The song reminds me of the Hollies’ Bus Stop, a 1966 hit written by 16-year-old Graham Gouldman. Both songs feature a bus stop as the site of blossoming love, with some help from a shared umbrella, and the tone is youthful and sincere. Much to my amusement, the song also happens to begin with a declaration of the time - 8:15. As any LOST fan knows, 815 is the number of the doomed flight that brought the castaways to the Island, and though I haven’t heard that Neil is a fan of the show, that particular time feels fatefully fitting in a song about a mode of transportation bringing people together.

Sadie Jones and I is my favorite track on the album because it’s just so infectiously fun. From the bouncy piano, accompanied by strings that add a hint of nostalgia, to Neil’s peppy vocals, this is one of those songs that just makes you feel glad to be alive. I can’t listen to it for more than about five seconds without a big grin creeping across my face. The fact that Neil wrote this with his father Edward makes it even more appealing, as it’s easy to imagine the senior Byrne as the earnest young suitor and Neil the product of the blissfully happy marriage. “It was 9:00, and the bus ain’t showin’, and all around the wind and rain is blowin’ free. But I calculate for time and weather, ‘cause underneath this fine umbrella stood Sadie and me.”

Raoul and Her Ladyship - Neil wrote this track with Nicole Hudson, who I assume is the same Nicole Hudson currently on tour with Celtic Thunder as a violinist. Accordingly, this track has a dense orchestral feel to it, along with layers of vocal harmony. There’s no video for this one yet, but if I had to venture a guess, the setting would take us even further back, a couple of centuries. I’m basing that primarily on the title, but there’s something courtly in the manner of the poetic speaker in this, the most flowery of the four songs. “Salute, bow our heads, turn to face the sun, knowing that this path is laid especially for us; it’s paved in gold.”

Truador - This is the only track on the album Neil wrote without any collaboration, and it’s the quietest of the songs, featuring just acoustic guitar and backing vocals. You can also watch a live performance of it on YouTube, where you have the added bonus of a Dublin backdrop, as he’s performing in front of a window several stories up at the Guinness Storehouse. While the first two tracks seem locked into a particular time, this one feels like a love song for the ages, and Neil has cleverly invented a word that I can see catching fire down the road. Merging the idea of a troubadour, a meandering singer of folk songs, with true adoration, he’s created the perfect verb to describe pouring out one’s love for another in the form of music. “You, my love, you should’ve been in my life from the start. I know you’ve opened up a new way to my heart. I’m sure that you’re the only one I truador.”

Cherish - The track that closes the album is the only cover on the EP. I work in a mall kiosk, and the original Madonna version of this song plays all the time; I wish they’d switch it out for Neil’s once in a while. Up until the chorus, his mellow rendition is scarcely recognizable, as he puts such a different spin on it. Piano and guitar provide the main instrumentation here, with occasional soft percussion and a dash of strings here and there. Neil does a lot of harmonizing with himself as well, especially on the chorus, and it all contributes to a song with a vastly different feel to it than the skating rink staple I grew up with. “Cherish the thought of always having you here by my side. Cherish the joy; you keep on bringing it into my life.”

If I didn’t know who Neil was and happened upon one of the songs from this EP in the absence of any visual cues, I probably wouldn’t guess that he was Irish; his Dublin accent virtually vanishes, and I suspect that at first listen, I would mistake him for an American. But whatever his nationality, I would realize that I was listening to a singer with a voice primed for pop music. I’m especially impressed with the way he exploits his upper register. As a songwriter, he demonstrates that Sensitive Souls is an ideal title for his first release, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds for this multi-talented musician.

This review is part of my Tales to Warm Your Mind Write-Off.  Join me in reflecting on the power of stories!

Celtic Thunder * Celtic Thunder: Act Two * Take Me HomeCeltic Thunder: The Show * Take Me Home DVD * I'll Be Home for Christmas (Paul Byrom) * If I Could Cry (Paul Byrom) * Celtic Thunder in Concert 2009 * It's Entertainment * It's Entertainment DVD * Celtic Thunder Christmas * Celtic Thunder in Concert 2010 * In Time (Ryan Kelly)


Recommend this product? Yes


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