The Irish Mail on Sunday


- by Danny McElhinney

David Gray Skellig (Laugh A Minute) ★★★★★

It’s well documented that the foundation of David Gray’s career was built on the success he enjoyed here in the early Nineties. So, it’s a surprise that Ireland, its landmarks and cultural touchstone­s have not thus far featured in his work to the degree that they do on his tenth studio album. He describes a night ‘as black as Guinness’ on the track Dun Laoghaire and when you hear the gorgeous title track, if you don’t think of seabirds soaring and swooping by the rock off the Kerry coast, your mind’s eye needs seeing to. The tracks Accumulate­s and Heart And Soul are just finely crafted songs regardless of their inspiratio­n. These days, the voice is less gravelly, the arrangemen­ts more rounded and the fiery Gray first heard on A Century Ends is just a cherished memory. White Ladder means he will never be poor, and Skellig shows he is still vital... just more at peace.

Willie Nelson That’s Life (Legacy) ★★★★★

After all that Willie Nelson has been through, his presence on the planet at 87 years old is quite miraculous. His work ethic is astonishin­g too. That’s Life is his fifth album in three years, his 70th in total. This sequel to the 2018 album My Way is another trawl through the Frank Sinatra songbook. My Way was passably pleasant, but this is one interpreta­tion of Ol’ Blue Eyes’ standards too many. God knows Nelson has earned the right to attempt That’s Life, Lonesome Road and I’ve Got You Under My Skin but only the most generous evaluation would say he got under the skin of any of these classic compositio­ns. Last year’s First Rose Of Spring was full of worthy original songs and on-point takes of songs by the new breed of country stars such as Chris Stapleton, as well as undervalue­d songs by the likes of Toby Keith and Billy Joe Shaver. That was a better use of the great man’s energies.

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