Retro Review / Brian Finnegan: The Ravishing Genius of Bones (2010)

I remember the three distinct occasions that made me fall in love with Irish and Scottish music, especially the music of our time that flows from those countries. First was Solas, then my discovery of Capercaillie, and then this, flute and white player and composer Brian Finnegan‘s first and so far only solo album.

All three opened new doors for me. If Solas communicated the vitality and power of modern American-Irish folk and Capercaillie the boundary-crossing spirit of Scottish crossover folk, then Finnegan’s album was the work of a singular artist weaving his very own fabric onto an old structure.

Three doors to countless paths I have loved since then. I believe The Ravishing Genius of Bones enjoys a high acclaim these days but I had no idea what this album was, or even who Brian Finnegan is (I barely knew Flook at the time!) when I first pressed play. I only remember my auditory nerves flashing all possible lights and my gaze stuck in some middle distance as I just listened.

In a way, it’s not so easy to explain why this 50 minutes of music is so special. It’s expertly performed instrumental music, with compositions rising from various Irish traditions but bearing and reflecting the composer’s personality. That alone would be great – but there’s more here.

First, each piece is composed, as opposed to a string of riffs and themes. Finnegan has built every piece to intricate but totally unforced finesse: not only do the tracks evolve and grow, they are multi-layered entities that keep on giving after so many plays.

Listen very carefully to how Belfast uses first a Jew’s harp and later a sly electric guitar to create color, mood and detail, or the way Joy marries the fast guitar picking and fluttering flute ornaments to this utter calm that the track radiates in the midst of its flurry of notes. It’s pure Zen we have here, folks, and it’s lovely.

Musical elements can be analyzed and put to words but the second magic ingredient here is more opaque and escapes analysis. I can only say that Finnegan and his team of superb guest musos communicate something that could be described with words like honesty, openness, even benevolence. This is life affirming art that will shine a light to your soul if you let it.

Big words, I know. I tend to do slip into hyperbole, that’s my thing. But this time I mean all that I said.

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