Well, well, well… would you believe this is Anthony Toner’s ninth album of original material? He’s come a long way from 2009’s ‘The Duke of Oklahoma and Other Stories’, yet that’s just ten years ago. He’s chalked up practically an album a year, a reflection of just how prolific a songwriter he is.

Each album has produced songs which have become scorched into the consciousness of a strong local fan base from early tunes like ‘Well, Well, Well’ to the quintessential crowd pleaser ‘Sailortown’, or ‘The Road to Fivemiletown’, ‘East of Louise’ and, more recently, ‘An Alphabet’, from the album ‘Ink’ (about Alzheimer’s).

2019 sees the launch of ‘Our Lady of the Wind and Rain’; a beautifully packaged album of thirteen excellent tunes but of course, with three or four outstanding tracks which look set to inevitably enter the eternal Toner repertoire.

Like the tides, this album has an ebb and flow of moods from the upbeat, up-tempo to a more introspective mood. For example, it opens with ‘That Kind of Love’, immediately setting a positive pace, but is followed by ‘Apology’ an admission of guilt and taking responsibility for things said in haste but repented at leisure.

The sea features strongly in the album and I definitely get a sense of tides, waves, swells, and sea-moods with titles like ‘Don’t Say that Ship has Sailed’ to ‘Lost at Sea’ and ‘Night in the Drowned House’.

Toner has a knack for creating characters that make songs just seem so real – lyrical ballads with a strong sense of narrative. In particular, the humorous ‘One for the Black Box’, the bluesy, tongue in cheek ‘Down Among the Chinless Wonders’, and the sad ‘Supermarket Vodka’.

In fact, ‘One for the Black Box’ is an absolute gem for anyone who has wobbled those cobblestones of Hill Street. Steeped in our collective Belfast psyche – just like Sailorstown – this one is set in the Cathedral Quarter, perhaps on a lost weekend. The lyrics on this are priceless – imagery so clearly articulated and delivered – really made me smile.

‘Supermarket Vodka’ is a pathos-soaked story of a lonely soul, secretly regretting past choices and decisions, a middle-aged man stewing on the sofa with supermarket vodka and a box set. In the more serious moments, Toner makes insightful social commentary, without perhaps even being aware of it.

Having reviewed previous Anthony Toner albums, it is that particular incisive insight into people, places and things, transformed through carefully crafted lyrics, that makes him a master of his art. A poet, with melody as muse.

Produced by Clive Culbertson (also on bass), with John McCullough on piano and Hammond, and Matt Weir on drums, ‘Our Lady of the Wind and Rain’ features a host of Northern Irish talent – including Gareth Dunlop, Matt McGinn, Ronnie Greer (guitar solos on ‘Down Among the Chinless Wonders’), Eilidh Patterson (vocals on ‘Lost at Sea’), Neil Martin on cello, Linley Hamilton on trumpet and Dave Howell on saxophone and horns.

Anthony Toner will be touring with the new album – visit www.anthonytoner.net for more details. ‘Our Lady of the Wind and Rain’ is available from all usual outlets and from EastSide Arts Centre, Belfast.