Paul Brady celebrated his 70th birthday earlier this year and has been making albums and stealing hearts with an onstage twinkle in his eye for more than five decades. His significant achievements are little known (especially outside of Ireland) making him an almost secret national treasure and speaking volumes about the man’s modesty. Given the changes in the music industry during the seven-year gap between this release and 2010’s acclaimed Hooba Dooba, Brady admits wondering - for a time - if there was even any point in putting out a new record but his fans will no doubt be glad he did. The album has evolved at its own pace over the past four years with Brady handling almost all the instruments himself, as well as engineering the record at his own studio in Dublin. This gives Unfinished Business a cosy, boxy feel but cements the idea that Paul Brady is unassuming, humble and grounded, despite being one of the most important folk-rock artists of his generation.
The title track and opener could easily fool you into thinking that this is the laid-back jazz opus of Brady’s twilight years. Personally I wouldn’t have minded that at all as ‘Unfinished Business’ is refreshingly unexpected, with its tinkling piano and upright bass giving it a Harvest Moon-goes-lounge feel. More recognisably in character, though, are the straight ahead folk-rock tracks that follow: the playful ‘I Love You but You Love Him’ and the Van Morrisonesque ‘Something To Change’ with its blasts of brass.
There are five co-writes with veteran songwriter Sharon Vaughn, two of which crown the middle of the album in the form of the unhurried, simple ballads ‘Oceans of Time’ and ‘Harvest Time’. Both allow us to luxuriate in Brady’s beautifully brittle vocal delivery - a trademark that has remained unchanged for the entirety of his career. ‘The Cocks Are Crowing’ follows, with gently fingerpicked guitar and warm Rhodes. It’s the first of two traditional songs on the album, the other being ‘Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender’ which closes the record, scarcely dressed in raggedy harmonica, guitar and mandolin.
‘I Like How You Think’ is very Tangled Up In Blue-era Dylan and, as such, is irresistibly jaunty. ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ (another co-write with Vaughn) also has a real transatlantic feel and showcases Brady’s none too shabby mandolin skills. Whether in Paul’s own hands or someone else’s, the song has the potential, I think, to be a big commercial success. Another hit-worthy highlight is the country ballad ‘Once In A Lifetime’, co-written with Ralph Murphy. It’s sentimental and soppy and in danger of drowning it its own lashings of pedal steel but Brady’s voice is just so comforting that none of that matters.
With Unfinished Business we find Paul Brady as charming and as capable as ever. What is remarkable is that an artist who has been celebrated with accolades throughout his career and has now started to pick up lifetime achievement awards remains so musically and personally down-to-earth. This is just a lovely collection of simply constructed songs, sung with unmatchable heart and warmth. Paul Brady’s consistent reliability in making this look like an easy task may lead folks to take him for granted. But even if you think of him as part of the furniture, you can’t deny he’s still one of the most comfortable chairs in the room.