John McCusker is a familiar name, and not just in folk music circles, with his wide involvement in the work of other artists as producer, arranger or musician.
So it's no surprise that Hello, Goodbye, his first solo album in thirteen years is sprinkled with some of the finest talent, keen to repay the compliment. Michael McGoldrick, Phil Cunningham and Tim O'Brien are amongst the names that make this release seem like an extended version of Transatlantic sessions. And of course there's the missus aka Heidi Talbot, who provides the one vocal contribution on what is otherwise an instrumental offering.
For all that, this is very much McCuskers record, with the man out front displaying the virtuoso musicianship that makes him so admired. Composed whilst on tour with Mark Knopler, Hello Goodbye is the first album released on his own label Under One Sky Records and the first recorded in the studio, built over two years in a Bothy dating from 1779.
Presumably Bothy Jigs, four tracks in was penned with that location in mind. It rattles along at a fair old clip for six minutes and is likely to induce exhaustion on anyone brave/daft enough to dance to it. Likewise Billy's is another high tempo number that makes you feel knackered just listening to it.
While those two tracks are technically flawless, it's the slower stuff that really catches the ear. Opening number, Calendar Boys has an extraordinary clarity of sound while The Milk Carton Kids is a masterclass in expression.
Any drawbacks then? Not really. There's plenty of variation here in both tone and pace and even a bit of what sounds like gyspy jazz chucked in at one point. The only issue with an instrumental recording is that it can be a bit much to take in at first. Listening in three track chunks is recommended, until you're familiar with the material at which point the problem goes away.
McCusker picked up a Good Tradition gong at the recent BBC Folk Awards. It's a well deserved accolade and this album and its accompanying tour are craftily timed to take advantage. Hello Goodbye will find it's way into the collections of folk fans both traditional and contemporary. If there is any justice it will receive wider recognition, for this is roots music done just about as well as it can be.