Barry McCabe’s newest offering Beyond the Tears once again treats us to his knack for pulling wildly diverse musical influences into a cohesive work of art. The blues guitar we’ve come to expect is there, as is the Celtic folk element that surfaced most noticeably in The Peace Within. But the new disc adds subtle shadings of other genres as well; there’s much more to Barry’s music than his love for blues and his Irish roots.
Beyond the Tears is in the tradition of what we used to call a “concept album” back in the ’70s. The theme woven around the songs here is that of the quintessential misunderstood outsider, personified by “Johnny”; he is, as Barry explains in the liner notes, “the part of society and ourselves we’d rather not know about.” There’s plenty said within this set of songs about the travails of life and about how prone anyone can be to downheartedness under the right circumstances. But overall it’s a positive theme, urging us to look beyond the immediate happenings and come out the other side better and stronger.
The disc kicks off with a classic Chuck Berry riff on the Dave Edmunds-style number, “Johnny Nobody.” It’s hard to imagine anyone else being able to bring off a rocker like this while incorporating lyrics that deal with serious philosophical issues like the power of positive/negative thinking on one’s reality, but Barry handles it in understated style without ever sounding pretentious or preachy about it.
Strong Peter Green influences are evident on “In the Dead of Night” as well as “Trouble,” and both are good solid tracks with moody guitar riffs that stick in the brain long after the disc has stopped. The Celtic factor comes to the front on the instrumentals “Catch Me If You Can,” “Arthur” (my personal favorite) and “The Sunset Waltz.” There’s only one cover tune this time around (Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love”) which fits in surprisingly well with the rest of the tracks as well as giving us the opportunity to notice that Barry’s not just another guitarist - he can pull off beautiful vocals too.
The remaining tracks are more straightforward accessible rock that will likely appeal to a broad range of listeners. “Rollin’” picks up the pace on the second half of the disc; it's a freight train of a song reminiscent of some of Rory Gallagher’s high-energy numbers like “Just Hit Town.” And if the radio industry ever develops aesthetic sensibilities, the Claptonesque “I Wonder” will be all over the airwaves.
One commendable thing about Barry McCabe is that even though he’s clearly a masterful solo musician, he appreciates the nuances of ensemble playing. He's assembled a congenial group of musician friends and acquaintances to work with him on this recording, most of whom just happen to have a solid pedigree with one band or another (in this instance, Pat McManus, Horslips’ Johnny Fean, and Mark Feltham from Rory Gallagher’s band). This is in stark contrast to most solo guitarists whose egos take over the show in long, self-indulgent leads while other musicians are on the recording merely for back-up or window-dressing. You’ll hear excellent guitar solos on Barry’s discs, but they’re always tasteful and appropriate for the context; the songs are never just a showcase for his licks.
Overall, Beyond the Tears is a fine effort from an extremely dedicated and talented musician. Listeners who appreciate solid guitar work, subtly introspective lyrics, and an eclectic blend of musical styles should enjoy this disc.
The CD is available at CD Baby and Barry's website is www.barrymccabe.com.
Review of "Beyond The Tears"