John Doyle, formerly of the group Solas, is without doubt the king of Irish acoustic guitar. Originally an instrumentalist only, he’s evolved into a wonderful singer.
Doyle has a great ear for songs. “Across The Western Ocean” is about those who left Ireland for America from 1846 to 1850 as a result of the terrible potato famine. Over 1.5 million of them came over on “packet ships,” the smaller vessels that plied the ocean before the massive clipper ships arrived around 1860 (interesting page on packet ships here). The packets took six weeks to reach America from Europe and almost one in every five immigrants who shipped on died of disease or shipwreck.
This song speaks of the fears of the Irish immigrants of the era. Like many old Irish songs, it shares a melody with another tune, in this case a sea shanty called “Leave Her, Johnny, Leave Her.”
I’m excited about seeing John Doyle and Karan Casey play live tonight at Joe’s Pub in New York. Here are some good live clips of them from YouTube.
“The King’s Shilling” – Karan Casey with James Taylor. She did a very nice recording of this with John Doyle some years ago, but this version with James T and Jerry Douglas is nice
“The Ballad of Accounting” with a big backup group. Karan’s voice sounds really great on this one:
A very old, held-held clip of Solas, but Karan and John Doyle do a nice harmony here:
“A Pound A Week Rise.” Finally, here’s a knock ’em dead performance by John D in a radio station with frequent partner Liz Carroll. He’s an astounding guitarist.
Info on seeing them at Joe’s Pub, which happens to be a great venue.
Since I’ve started learning fiddle, one of my favorite pieces is this nice oldie with lyrics by Yeats. Like many other Irish tunes, it’s got a long history with some twists and turns. Yeats wrote the poem in 1889. Then, in 1909, an Irish collector of folk songs and composer named Herbert Hughes set the words to an old air called “The Maids of the Mourne Shore.” A “sally” or “sallie” is an old Irish word for a willow tree. Here’s the best version I’ve found of this song, by singer Maura O’Connell (formerly of De Danaan), backed by a wonderful group of Irish musicians and American slide player Jerry Douglas.
Down by the salley gardens my love and I did meet;
She passed the salley gardens with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish, with her did not agree.
In a field down by the river my love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder she laid her snow-white hand.
She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears.
After a seven-year layoff from performing, The Cranberries, originally of Limerick, rolled into New York last night and showed again how their strange, volatile brew of talent and influences sets them apart from anyone else in rock, past or present.
The Cranberries long ago mastered the art of tightrope walking on many edges at once. Their music settles frequently into the jagged groove of 1970’s punk rock. But on that foundation, a lot of different stylistic rooms have been built. Their five-album repertoire takes hairpin turns from sweet romantic melodies to teeth-gnashing hard rock, with the cumulative effect somehow being more than the sum of the parts. Long used to playing big-venue shows, the band now offers plenty of typical audience sing-along’s and “helooo-fill in the name of the city we’re in tonight” yells. But as the concert progresses, a “ghost in the machine” quality of the songs unfolds. Embedded in the catchy melodies and hooks, there’s a flavor of personal pain that’s sharp and real. Thankfully, it all comes without a touch self-pity.
Riding the crest of all this is lead songwriter and singer Dolores O’Riordan, who hasn’t lost anything vocally during the hiatus. Belting away song after song without much harmony backup, she seemed to get stronger as the evening progressed. She remains a riveting front woman who can take the odd yelps and guttural cracks that trace back to Patti Smith and Yoko Ono and make them somehow palatable to a pop audience. Call me biased, but I can’t help but hear a subtle echo of Irish sean nos singing now and then as well.
She has no trouble qualifying as a Celtic rock star diva with a hot hairdo. But as always with the Cranberries, there’s another side to the coin. At age 38, after having three children, O’Riordan brings a frank sexuality to her performance that’s bracing. Alternately waving her arms and legs like Frankenstein conjuring the musical beast to life, stopping to shake her lovely ass and then telling a pithy story or two about her kids, she keeps her audience locked in but always a little off balance. You feel now and then like you’ve found your way into a loft in a bad part of town where some new band is trying out a lot of crazy ideas – an exhilarating sense that most bands have lost by the time they reach this level. You know they’re going to end with “Dreams,” but it just doesn’t feel predictable.
The band is flexible, trading easily from heavy, droning songs like “Zombie” to light acoustic tunes including “Linger.” Sprinkled in along the way were some new tunes, including a particularly good one about insomnia. The Cranberries will be touring in the U.S., Europe and South America well into next spring. Get tour information here