Christie Hennessy is one of the most remarkable men currently working today. As one of Ireland’s most prolific songwriters, he’s written over 700 songs for the likes of Christy Moore, Mary Black and Daniel O’Donnell (ok, we can forgive him for that last one). Remember Nizpoli name-checking Don’t Forget Your Shovel in last year’s JCB Song? That was written by Hennessy.
He’s achieved his status of one of Irish folk’s icons despite being unable to read or write, having suffered from dyslexia all his life. His new album Stories For Sale has been recorded with Calum and Neil MacColl, brothers of the late Kirsty MacColl, and as you’d expect from the sons of another legendary folk singer in Ewan MacColl, they treat Hennessy’s work with the utmost respect.
Stories For Sale is a collection of beautifully written and exquisitely played folk songs. Upbeat acoustic numbers such as the opening Just Another Man, inspired by a John Lennon demo according to the excellent sleeve notes, are enriched by Hennessey’s wonderfully warm, breathy vocals. The MacColl brothers co-write the loping Just Another Day, proving that it wasn’t just Ewan and Kirsty who had the songwriting genes.
The nostalgic Derry Street, a tribute to Hennessy’s teenage years, is a particular highlight, looking back at Irish dancehalls and “the girl who taught me how to dance”. It’s touching and rather poignant and beautifully relaxing to listen to. Even better is Sitting Inside A Window, a tale of just sitting observing everyday life, enlivened by an effective backing vocal arrangement which really brings the song to life.
With an album as gentle as this, it’s inevitable that it sometimes does become a bit twee. Cowboys becomes rather pedestrian, conjuring up nightmare visions of a Sunday afternoon in a locked room with only Radio 2 for company, while Maybe could possibly put to sleep a toddler filled up with a bag of sweets and a jumbo carton of Sunny Delight.
Yet accusing Christie Hennessy of being too gentle and folky is a bit like complaining that Kanye West comes across as too confident. This is an album to relax to and enjoy on a quiet afternoon – to forget about the stresses and strains of the world with. Soho Square (coincidentally, also the name of a Kirsty MacColl song) is a delight – co-written with Hennessy’s son Tim, it’s a stately piano ballad which shows off his voice to the very best advantage.
Perhaps the best track is saved until the very end, a hidden autobiographical track which details Hennessey’s years of slogging around the folk circuit. “I’ve played in every town and brought some houses down, yet critics never notice me, I’m not a star, you see”. That may be true, but it hardly matters when he releases albums as sublime as this.