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10/06/03
Reviewed by - John P Dunphy

Jeff Johnson & Brian Dunning
Patrick
Released: September 10, 2003
Origination Year: 2003
Time: 46:34
Tracks: 9
Produced by: Jeff Johnson
Style: Studio
Format: CD
Enhancement: None
Label:Ark Records
Website:
N/A

This was a very hard review for me to write. If you read that sentence on its own, you’d probably assume I was reviewing a disappointing album by a band I usually really like. On the whole, you’d probably be right. However, as you can plainly see from the rating on the left, that’s not the case – unless, of course that prankster Rowe decided to mess with our heads when he posted this. If, however, he’s been good, you’re going to want to know just why this was so difficult. Read on.

Patrick, the album is the latest offering of instrumental songs by American keyboardist Jeff Johnson and Irish flutist Brian Dunning. The duo's’ collaborative efforts date as far back as the late 1980s but were not fully realized until the two put together the quintessential Songs from Albion series based on the works of novelist Stephen Lawhead in the early-mid 90s.

Patrick, the novel also written by Lawhead tells the story of Succat of Morgannwg, the British born son of a noble, who was seized in the latter part of the fourth century by Irish warriors during a midnight raid and sold to an Irish king. After spending seven years in slavery, he was able to finally escape and return triumphant to his homeland, eventually becoming known to the world as Saint Patrick.

Johnson and Dunning have once again been joined by a host of musicians who have previously contributed to Ark releases including Irish violinist John Fitzpatrick and Hungarian cellist Jozef Luptak, both previously heard on Johnson’s 2002 solo release, The Memory Tree. Also back is Janet Chvatal who has been contributing her voice to Johnson and Dunning’s music since 1997’s The Music of Celtic Legends- the Bard and the Warrior.

Johnson has taken his talent and knowledge of the craft he has honed over the past 25+ years and has been able to present us with not only what fans have come to expect but even a few things they might not, such as a smattering of drum loops on a couple tracks and some truly dark musical imagery in such songs as “Voice of the Irish” and “Roma.” Dunning continues to thoroughly impress the listener with his ability to speak to us through not only the flute but also such other instruments as whistles and accordions.

A lot of credit must also be given to the rest of the contributors to this disc, whom I collectively refer to here as the “Ark Family.” Fitzpatrick and Luptak on songs “Wake at Dawn” and “Truth Against the World” are brilliant in their ability to not only move the listener emotionally but even physically; I was literally at the edge of my seat, my ears locked in the direction of my speakers. On “Favere Mundi” they, along with Dunning’s flute and Johnson’s almost otherworldly keys, present such an incredibly powerful piece of music that I have been nearly moved to tears every time I have listened to it. I know that sounds a bit over-the-top and melodramatic but it’s exactly what’s happening to me right now as I listen to it.

Chvatal adds a clear, beautiful voice, if only on a few of the tracks, to the instrumental compositions. This was hinted at previously on the 2000 release Byzantium as well as The Memory Tree but truly shines brightest here. Just listen to her somber, soothing tones on “Patrick’s Fire” and her piercing soprano on the closer “Sons of Light” and you’ll clearly hear why.

What comes as a shining relief to me is Johnson and Dunning continue not only to sound familiar but different at the same time. Elements of past works can be heard side-by-side new ideas and new directions in sound. Rest assured, longtime fans, you will feel right at home with Patrick, but you will never feel like they’re repeating themselves or getting too safe for their own good.

So, now you might still be wondering just what was so darn hard about writing this review. I obviously enjoyed it and can honestly say that I think it is the duo's finest, most polished, most accomplished work to date. I can also easily say that if you have any interest at all in New Age, Irish folk, Celtic or even Classical music, you are going to find something truly special in Patrick. I can say a lot of things. But, really, what I cannot say, what I cannot truly express is the feeling I get when I listen to this album. That’s what’s so hard.

In an ongoing effort to perfect the art of self-plagiarizing, I’d like to present to you what I said about Johnson and Dunning’s Byzantium release in a previous review*:

“Some songs feel like you’re standing on the peak of a mountain where the air is so crisp it nearly cuts, where the sky is so vast and so clear it blinds you, where you can see everything below and you are absolutely and completely free. Others feel like you’re deep in the woods, not quite lost but not quite sure where you’re going and some…feel like you are about to embark on one of the most important journey of your life. That’s about as close as I can get to showing you in words what [this music] is like. But, really, nothing I say can accurately describe it. You’ll just have to listen for yourself.”

What else is there to be said?

*originally appeared in the March 4, 2003 edition of Fiat Lux (fiatlux.alfred.edu)


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Track Listing

Johnson & Dunning

Jeff Johnson:
Keyboards / Piano

Brian Dunning:
Flute / Alto Flute / Whistles
and Accordion

John Fitzpatrick:
Violin

Janet Chvatel:
Vocals

Jozef Luptak:
Cello

Gregg Williams:
Drums and Percussion

Tim Ellis:
Acoustic & Electric Guitars

Phil Baker:
Electric Bass

Roger Hadley:
Additional Percussion

Jack Dunning:
Voice of the Irish