Trad & Folk
Artists and Albums
Hello! This page is part of an opinionated overview of Celtic and British folk music, with record reviews by me, Joe Sixpack... This is not meant to be taken as a "definitive" resource, but rather as a record of some of the music which has caught my interest. I am always looking for more good music to explore, so your comments and suggestions are welcome.
This is the first page covering the letter "I"
This Irish-by-way-of-Canada quartet flew the banner of Irish music during the tail-end of the American '60s folk boom, hitting the bigtime with their hit novelty song, "The Unicorn," a Shel Silverstein tune that taps into the confluence of folkie-folk and children's music. Most of their other recordings had a novelty component, although there's a wide variety of subject matter and even of musical styles... This modest disc does a fine job encapsulating their 1966-71 stint on the Decca label, ranging from drinking tunes like "Liverpool Lou" to lite country rock like Gordon Lightfoot's "Did She Mention My Name," as well as a generous slathering of kiddie-folk, like Lucy (sister of Carly) Simon's arrangement of "Winken, Blinken' And Nod." There actually a few real surprises on here, particularly when they go outon a limb with the politically themed "The Orange And The Green," which is a rollicking lampoon of Ireland's deadly sectarian Protestant/Catholic violence. The Rovers were cutesy and twee, but also entertaining and effective, maybe not a trad-lover's true delight (then again, this was all pre-Planxty, so how "trad" could you really be?) but of the Mighty Wind -style folk groups, these fellows stand near the top of the pile.
Andy Irvine & Paul Brady "Andy Irvine - Paul Brady" (Mulligan's Music, 1976)
An delightful, beautiful album, merging the talents of two of Ireland's best folk singers, each at the pinnacle of their power as traditionally-oriented performers. Both Brady and Irvine later turned to more pop-tinged material, here though, it's pure, glorious acoustic trad, played with an understated grace that you just can't help but love. In addition to the simple, elegant musicianship, each singer has a lovely voice, fragile yet authoritative in their own way. The classic track on here is the wry "Arthur McBride," a sarcastic19th-Century ballad gleefully celebrating the Irish resistance to British military recruitment, a tale of head-bashing and swordsmanship sung in as pretty and cheerful a fashion as imaginable... All the other songs on here are equally fine; this is the trad revival at its absolute best.
Andy Irvine "Rainy Sundays... Windy Dreams" (Tara, 1980)
Irvine dips into contemporary folk, though keeping a traddish edge... Side One (of the original LP) has a traditional slant, but Side Two slides into jazz-inflected folk, and doesn't hold up particularly well. Irvine's vocal phrasings hit some clunky rhythmic twists, and his bouzouki playing, which can be so lovely and expressive in a Celtic context, seems awkward and tacked-on in the new style. He also dips his toes into Balkan music (a longtime fascination), including an English-language vocal tune with Lucienne Purcell singing the lead. Definitely worth checking out, although it has some rough patches. (The CD reissue substitutes one song, "Christmas Eve," with a new track, "Bonny Woodhall." Dunno why.)
Andy Irvine & Dick Gaughan "Parallel Lines" (Folk Freak/Green Linnet/Appleseed, 1982)
A collaboration with Irish trad giant, Andy Irvine, of Planxty, and Scotland's ever-gruff, ever amazing Dick Gaughan. Much has been made of the historic crossover between the Irish and Scottish music camps signified by this album, though, in truth, it's a bit hard to see what the fuss is about. At this point Irvine's music is a bit soft, and while this album is perfectly fine, it's not the most engaging thing either of these two have done. Still, it's some mighty fine picking.
A very serious, though not entirely dour, set of story-songs, many of a political bent. This is an album that requires a fair amount of active listening -- if you want to find out hat happens to the girl beset by brigands, or the labor organizers persecuted by the Powers That Be, then you're gonna have to sit through a dozen or so verses on some of these songs (which average about six minutes in length...) It's musically quite rich, with the gruff-voiced Irvine playing a bazillion instruments himself, and collaborator Rens Van Der Zalm playing about a bazillion more. Irvine's Balkan fixation comes up on a tune or two, but mostly this is a pretty straightforward Celtic-based set. Worth checking out.
A nice selection of tunes from Irish-American fiddle whiz Eileen Ivers' long and illustrious career, ranging from her humble start as a teenage whiz kid in the late 1970s (when she trained with Limerick-born fiddler Martin Mulvihill) up through her work with Cherish The Ladies and (groan) the Riverdance stage band. The early stuff is pretty nice, though the further into her career you go, the more crossover-y and dubious her sound becomes. Nice portrait of an artist's career growth, though!
Omigod... this is just so awful and so dreadfully tacky! A goopy world-beat, Celtic dork-folk blechfest. Ivers is fine fiddler, but the whole project is just so completely cringeworthy, from the gallumpfingly unsubtle rhythmic attack to the heinously yucky Bill Withers/Richie Havens wannabee vocals. (And don't get me wrong, I love Bill Withers... it's just that this dude, Tommy McDonnell, is a pretty poor substitute...) This is a terrible, terrible album. I protest!!
More Celtic/Brit Folk Albums -- Letter "J"
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