Reviewed by Tony Cummings
Down the decades Sammy Horner has recorded numerous albums in a multitude of styles from punk rock to Celtic worship and explored a wide range of lyrical themes taking in everything from murder ballads to songs for children. However this, his latest, released shortly after his outstanding set of rock music evangelism issued under the name Rev Sam & The Outcasts, takes the listener back to one of Horner's earliest influences, Irish folk music. With the help of some file sharing, Sammy has brought in instrumentalists and singers from the USA, Australia and other places to make 'Far Away Places' one of the outstanding folk-orientated albums of the year. With a compelling set of narrative songs it tells the story of the Irish settlers who relocated to the USA during Ireland's potato famine of 1845-1949. It also demonstrates that many of the divisions we make between "Christian" and "non-Christian" music are unhelpful. 'Far Away Places' doesn't need Scripture verses or Jesus namechecks to reflect an empathy and sympathy for the multitude of poor and suffering who down the ages have populated this troubled world. The theme and inspiration of this album of courageous immigrants emigrating to the USA to escape starvation and to find a better life is told with pathos and passion. Apart from Rodney Cordner's "Immigrant Eyes" (with Cordner contributing a stirring vocal) all are Horner compositions and their imagery is consistently powerful. The opener "The Good Ship Kelly Jean" portrays a famine ship where the immigrants had a reasonable chance of survival thanks to the respect for human dignity shown by Quaker Captain Conal. ("It took six weeks on the open sea before we saw the shore/It slowly dawned that would see our homeland nevermore/But Conal shared a meal with us and looked us in the eye/'Work hard now for your children and your people will not die'"). Other topics include California ("We are heading to a new land like nothing we have seen/One part is a desert the other emerald green/It's hard now to imagine it but one day we might say/There's less of us in Ireland than in California"). There are outstanding tracks peppered throughout the album, like the sad "Skibbereen" with Sharon Clancy's haunting vocal deftly accompanied by Sammy's guitar, mandolin, bass and bodhran and Timmy Cotterell's plaintive fiddle, or the closer "These Days Will Pass". This, with an emotive vocal from Sammy and wife Kylie, is another Horner gem ("It seems too long since life was fine/Pain goes by in slower time/We shared the little that we had/Where things had never been that bad. Sure trouble makes or breaks a man/Some give in while others stand/And somewhere in the midst of fear/They know these days will disappear. We'll make our journey, find our place/Some day soon in God's good grace/And we'll be glad for what we've done/For our daughters, for our sons."
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