It is that time of year again when the major record labels are either repackaging fairly recently released albums again with bonus tracks or video clips, releasing box sets of albums that we already own separately in the hope that we fall for the hype and purchase them just once more or finally releasing ‘lost’ albums that most reviewers have been fooled into believing really are classics when all that is truthfully outstanding is the packaging they now come in. So instead of being taken in by it all but still wanting to look back as we all do at the close of a year over not just the music that came out during the last twelve months but during the last few years, I’ve turned to an artist who impressed so many in 2010 with his ‘Ride the Wind’ album.

Irish born Tony McLoughlin won a good many new fans with that fourth album and checking out his previous albums was only a matter of time. ‘Tall Black Horse’, which McLoughlin released way back in 2007, was his third album and, although ‘Ride The Wind’ has proved to be one of those albums that is never far from the CD player just now, ‘Tall Black Horse’ has the edge over its predecessor.

Firstly not one of the twelve songs on ‘Tall Black Horse’ sounds half a decade old; this album could have been released this year. Secondly this is only one of a handful of albums that have reached these ears in the last twelve months that sounds like some thought has been given to the running order of the songs. While it has to be admitted that, as every cut here is of such a high standard, it wasn’t so important as to which song actually started the album, the opening ‘How Can I Get to You?’ is the perfect example of just what Tony McLoughlin is all about. The opening shot of drums gives way to one of McLoughlin’s catchy guitar lines. It is one of those moments when you just know that good things are about to happen and once those strong, solid and warm vocals come in that smile that crossed your face when you heard that guitar for the first time just grows and grows. Sure, all those influences which McLoughlin doesn’t even try to disguise shine through. You will hear Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and even Mark Knopfler all in just that opening track but McLoughlin gets away with it because his songs are so well-crafted, so real.

Solid is the word that keeps coming to mind when listening to ‘Tall Black Horse’. McLoughlin’s lived-in vocals, the superb sound of the guitars and melodies that will have you both smiling and tearful all add to the soulfulness of these songs and it is that, despite never hiding his influences, which makes McLoughlin stand out from the pack. It is called keeping it real and showing some emotion.

‘Look Around’ which follows that stunning opening track is cut from a very similar cloth,. There is a searing guitar solo (apart from McLoughlin’s own superb guitar work the much admired Thomm Jutz, well known for his work with Joe Gibbs, Nanci Griffith and Mary Gauthier, does his usual wonderful job with an array of different instruments as well as producing the album) and it features one of McLoughlin’s trademark sing-along choruses. It’s also during this song that you check out who the musicians are on ‘Tall Black Horse’. How many times can you honestly say that you’ve been mightily impressed by the drummer as early as the second song on an album? Seeing the name of Pat McInerney, who has also worked with Gibbs, Griffith and many others, credited as the drummer clears that one up then.

But not even those opening two songs prepare you for what follows; ‘Hard Heart’. Lyrically a simple love song, it’s blessed with a breathtaking melody, sympathetic playing from all concerned, the most emotional vocal performance yet from McLoughlin and a touch of genius from whoever came up with the idea of getting Toni Catlin to add her sweet, touching vocals to a song that never fails to move you. ‘Hard Heart’ has been tucked away on an album that is five years old and it is one of the best songs I’ve heard all this year.

McLoughlin is one of those artists who can straddle various genres while never quite settling in any particular one, which is yet another reason while his music always sounds so fresh and inviting. Mixing folk, rock, and blues is nothing new but McLoughlin, by injecting soul into each and every song gets through where others fail. He is not afraid to experiment either; the addition of fiddle and banjo to ‘Like a Saint’ proves that young, contemporary folk bands have learnt a thing or two from McLoughlin.

McLoughlin has been around long enough to know that what he does isn’t going to change the world, but it is certainly a much better place when his music plays. If ‘Tall Black Horse’ had been released in 2011 and not 2007 it would, without a doubt, be in my top five albums of this year. It certainly beats any of those re-packed, re-promoted sets that we’re currently getting thrust upon us.











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