After causing a sensation with their early singles and debut album Searching for the Young Soul Rebels, Dexys Midnight Runners went through an almost total revamp before their second album Too-Rye-Ay was released in 1982. The hard-edged, amped-up soul revival sound built around a tight-as-duck-feathers horn section, the dockworker chic look, and most of the bandmembers -- all gone. What remained was Kevin Rowland and his vision of a modern Irish soul music that mixed horns, traditional instruments, and violins. Pairing that with a new raggle-taggle style and an updated lineup that still retained songwriter/trombonist Big Jim Patterson while adding violinist Helen O'Hara as Rowland's new foil, the album retained all the energy of their debut while adding newfound warmth and even more poetry. Of course, it all came together perfectly on the timeless classic "Come on Eileen," a brilliantly wild and wooly song that encapsulates everything Rowland was trying to do with this incarnation of the band. This kind of uptempo soul/Celtic/rock & roll fusion makes up a good chunk of the album. Tracks like "The Celtic Soul Brothers," "Plan B," and their cover of one of their main musical heroes Van Morrison's rollicking "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile") mix the brittle horns, soothing strings, and wall-punching backbeats into a live wire-meets-high wire act with Rowland testifying over the top, joined by his able core of vocalists who chime in to give support and question him along the way. It's almost impossible not to be swept away by the joyous tide of emotion that radiates light like a lighthouse on a murky night. It's music that makes one want to dance, cry, laugh, and tear things up (or down). The ballads are just as inspiring. Rowland may not be cut from classic balladeer cloth, but he can sell a slow song like few others. He and the band display just the right touch of subtle drama on songs like "All in All (This One Last Wild Waltz)" that makes proper use of a backing vocal choir, the poignant and then some "Old," and the truly majestic "Until I Believe in My Soul." That last track features one of Rowland's more inspired vocals with an incredible arrangement that manages to work in both a hard bop interlude and a whistling breakdown, and a chorus one might find in the dictionary under the heading of "rousing." The uptempo tracks get most of the attention -- and they well deserve it -- but one should never forget the power of Dexys when they dial it down and get serious. Too-Rye-Ay is a masterpiece of musical fusion powered by the genius soul of Kevin Rowland, fueled by the incredible band he assembled, and built to outlast every twist and turn of musical taste and live forever as a true work of living, breathing art.
by Tim Sendra