At the Sligo Fair – Songs from Yeats is a fantastical concept album in which Beston Barnett imagines himself to be William Butler Yeats’ songwriting partner: the words of the great Irish poet are mined for mood and given melody. Working with producer Daniel Tashian in his Nashville studio, penny whistle and bodhran meet pedal steel and drums to create a modern folk-rock record that sounds like a book of poems.
- The Fiddler of Dooney
- Down by the Salley Gardens
- Before the World was Made
- Her Anxiety, His Confidence
- The Indian Upon God
- Why Does My Heart Beat So?
- The Meditation of the Old Fisherman
- Solomon to Sheba
- Crazy Jane on God
- My Paistin Finn
- Brown Penny
- The Song of Wandering Aengus
- To the Rose Upon the Rood of Time
- Beston Barnett – lead vocals, guitars, oud, cavaquinho, basses, organs, piano, berimbau, hand percussion
- Josh Culley – tin whistles, bodhran, flutes, bouzouki, accordion
- Jim Hoke – pedal steel, flutes, clarinets, harmonica, vibraphone
- John Mailander – violin
- Daniel Tashian – drums, keyboards, lap steel, backing vocals, electric guitar, banjo, mandolin, bass, that piano solo
- Jon Wright – backing vocals, whistling
all words by William Butler Yeats, all melody and arrangement by Beston Barnett
co-produced by Beston Barnett and Daniel Tashian
San Diego Troubadour, March 2014 – by Jon Kanis
I passed a little further on and heard a lotus talk
Who made the world and ruleth it, He hangeth on a stalk,
For I am in His image made, and all this tinkling tide
Is but a sliding drop of rain between His petals wide.
– “The Indian Upon God” by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
What a beautiful idea: take the work of a classic poet and set their verse to music. It is an idea that has played itself out in various projects before (Alan Parsons’ trawl through the works of Edgar Allan Poe of course comes to mind) – but nothing that you’ve heard before sounds as charming and compelling as the latest sonic offering by the exceptionally talented Beston Barnett. At the Sligo Fair is a bacchanalian Renaissance of festival proportions that presents the lyrical gifts of Ireland’s most celebrated poet laureate in a sparkling new context. For 46 glorious minutes it is a galloping, glorious ride that rocks and sways and satisfies in a perfectly integrated swirl of the modern day and the anachronistic. There are few poets of the 20th century as revered as William Butler Yeats and the adaptability of his insightful verse is put to the test by multi-instrumentalist Barnett. The results emerge in flying colors – in other words the music is majestically marvelous.
At the Sligo Fair is Barnett’s ninth solo LP and was recorded in his native Nashville. His main collaborator on the project is co-producer/drummer Daniel Tashian, who contributes instrumentation of every sort. Tashian is, of course, the son of Holly and Barry Tashian (of Boston’s legendary The Remains). Appropriately enough, there is plenty of Irish tin-whistle along with flute, pedal steel, and high-strung guitar. Why, there’s even a little bossa nova thrown in for good measure. And special mention must be made of John Mailander’s superlative fiddle playing, which shines across this entire album.
In the 15 years since his debut album Chrysalis, Barnett has become quite the fixture on the San Diego music scene. In addition to his solo work he also plays guitar and sings with the outstanding gypsy café jazz ensemble the Zzymzzy Quartet (see story, pps. 8-9).
At the Sligo Fair is a wonderful marriage of melody with the language of love at the fore and there’s not an ounce of angst to be found throughout the proceedings. The entire affair jangles with the merriment of a grand celebration after a long and fruitful harvest, without ever sounding archaic or dead. The melodies are sublimely superb with more hooks than your granddaddy’s tackle box.
In addition to being a very fine musician, singer, and songwriter, Barnett also is a top-notch designer who creates his own line of custom-made furniture. That goes a long way toward explaining the earthiness of his music, as he is a woodworker by trade. He has crafted an exquisite jewel of an album. Yeats ought to be proud.