CD CHOICE:Weathering Make Mine Music****

Ever since the release of Almond Teain 1999, it was abundantly clear to anyone with even a frail possession of their musical senses that Thomas Walsh was a colossal songwriting talent. Rather rudely pushed to the side while a rogue’s gallery of chancers and nevergonnabes cluttered up the Irish music media, Walsh and his band seemed permanently destined for dreaded “cult” status.

Lately, though, there’s been a bit of movement: Walsh picked up an Ivor Novello nomination for his work with The Duckworth Lewis Method and heads were slowly beginning to turn.

What you get with Pugwash is a rarity: intelligent pop. Their songs have always been crafted with an artisan’s love and invariably reflect a classical structure that has much in common with the B bands (Beatles and Beach Boys). And Walsh’s public adoration of Jeff Lynne and ELO (one of the most underestimated bands of all time) does seep into his melody lines.

The opener here, Answers on a Postcard,is perhaps Pugwash’s best song to date, a jaunty affair that could have been recorded in any of the last five decades, such is its timeless appeal.

Like so much of The Olympus Sound, the judicious use of backing vocals at just the right time and place really elevates the music.

There’s class and style in abundance: Wilco and The Jayhawks would kill for a song such as Dear Belinda,and the psychedelic-tinged 15 Kilocycle Tonesounds as if it fell off a George Harrison solo album. Lyrically, there’s a new crispness to the work, and the unexpected Eleanor Rigbytouches on T o the Warmth of Youare a real delight.

If there are faults, they lie in the fact that Walsh could have put his vocals a bit higher up, and a potentially big hit single such as Here We Go Round Againshould have been beefed up in production.

Finishing with the near- perfect See You Mineand the woozy, vocal harmony-a- go-go of Four Days, The Olympus Sound is the best Irish album of the year to date. See pugwashtheband. com

Download tracks: Answers on a Postcard, Dear Belinda, See You Mine, Four Days