Though Damien Dempsey's solo records have taken in influences as diverse as reggae, hip-hop, and electronic music, his base inspiration has always been the traditional Irish music upon which he raised. His major idols -- the Pogues, Christy Moore, the Dubliners -- have each placed as much (or more) emphasis upon interpreting existing material as they have creating their own. With that in mind, it's only really surprising that it's taken him this long to attempt an album of standards. Gathering a dozen or so of his favorite ballads -- a ballad in the Irish sense being a song that explicitly tells a story -- Dempsey recruited the two longest-serving Dubliners, Barney McKenna and John Sheahan, and set about creating unique arrangements for each. Once or twice on The Rocky Road, Dempsey seems overcome by the material; in particular, his rendition of "Kelly from Killan" owes a little too much to Luke Kelly's vocal on the seminal recording. For the most part, though, the modern arrangements serve the songs well, and the musicians' obvious skill and enthusiasm translates in spades. "The Foggy Dew" and "The Rocky Road to Dublin" may be the most well-known of the 11 tracks, but they're also among the most distinguished. The most modern number, the Pogues' "A Rainy Night in Soho" is the unexpected highlight, substituting bouzouki and violin for the jazzy pop arrangement of the original, as is the boisterous rendition of Ewan MacColl's "Schooldays Over." The Rocky Road is well worthy of being mentioned alongside classic albums by the Dubliners and Planxty, and that's as big a compliment as it could be paid.
AllMusic Review by Dave Donnelly