||The Lomax Collection: Ireland
Various artists; 34 tracks; 51'09".
Rounder CD 1742.
|Audio clips & track listing
|One of the pleasures of reviewing albums is
that, every now and then, something very special shows up in my mail box.
The arrival of volume 2 of the "World Library of Folk and Primitive
Music", Ireland, marked one of those days. The Lomax Collection features
reissues of music from discs long out of print as well as new material from the Lomax
archives, all remastered in 20-bit digital sound. (The sound on this album is very good given the age and the fact that these were
field recordings. There's a little hiss on some cuts, but not enough to really distract
or be a problem.)
In 5 to 6 years the
collection will comprise over 100 discs and span cultures from Bali to
Canada. Among the releases slated for later this summer are albums of
Margaret Barry and Jeannie Robertson. Volume 1, England (including
Northumbria) and volume 3, Scotland, are already out.
Click here to skip historical information.
From When and Where This Album Came
The long-playing record
was barely two years old when Lomax did his Irish fieldwork, and the 12-inch
lp had only just won the format battle with the ten-inch lp when this album
was released in 1955 as part of the eighteen-record Columbia World
Library. The music was mostly collected
in 1951 by Alan Lomax and Seamus Ennis in the
western counties of Eire, that date making them early collectors but by no means
the earliest. (However, Lomax notes in his introduction that some of the recordings
were made by Brian George and Maurice Brown of the BBC in 1947.)
These performances come from a period after those available on most of the
Irish-in-the-US historical record issues (1920s-1930s, mostly studio
performances and often with an incompetent American pianist throwing in bad
accompaniment) but before the influence of Sean Riada, the Clancy Brothers,
the Chieftains and the large changes in performance that began in the 1960s.
This is a period I've got a lot of interest in; the evolution from Sean
Riada to Riverdance is a subject of interest to me. What came before the
evolution is also of great interest--it is the way that Irish music was
performed for a couple of hundred years, changing only slightly or slowly.
This CD is a wonderful window on that period.
The notes for this CD are outstanding. They include two pages of
introduction by Nicolas Carolan, head of the National Archive--Irish
Traditional Music Archive in Dublin and a 4-page history by Robin Roberts on
"Collecting in Ireland with Alan Lomax". Roberts
accompanied Lomax and anecdotally and amusingly recalls locations and
performers as well as incidents. Lomax's original one-page introduction is included,
and 19 pages of complete song lyrics and notes. English and Gaelic words are
included for songs sung in Gaelic; some verses not reproduced on the album
are included in the notes.
Traditional music collectors face a lot of pitfalls. Sometimes they
record what they think is typical of an area or a tradition, only to later
find out that they've recorded only a lunatic fringe, or other
misrepresentative sample. Sometime they are simply the subject of practical
jokes by musicians. Lomax was accompanied by Seamus Ennis, and because of
that it is believed that he pretty much avoided these traps. Roberts notes,
"Later, there were those who complained that Alan had roared through
Ireland like Attila the Hun ... had not spent enough time with the people to
understand them properly and he did not speak Irish. ... Now, of course, the
collection is cherished in Ireland. He could not have foreseen that he
started something that would blossom into a revival of the
|While this is somewhat of an overstatement, Alan Lomax
was an experienced collector with (in 1951) eighteen years of field
experience, and his work at the least provided a great deal of nourishment
to the folk/traditional revivals that hit many cultures in the 1960s. This
record, which was in print from 1955 to the mid-1980s,
presented traditional Irish music and performers to a broad public for the
Historian of Irish music in the U.S. Philippe Varlet comments,
"Sure there were
quite a few Irish 78s around, but they generally didn't circulate among the
general public, only within the Irish communities. The Columbia World
Library series was meant to have a large distribution to the general public,
probably in part through public and school libraries. I doubt these would
have had much Irish music on hand before that."
|Alan Lomax lived in England from 1950 to 1958. Apart from his field work,
he produced numerous broadcasts of traditional music for BBC radio,
including an eight-part series on Irish music titled "From Dublin to
Donegal." With David Attenborough, he produced the first television
broadcast of traditional music of the British Isles in 1953. Among others,
it featured Margaret Barry. He also persuaded the BBC to hire Peter Kennedy
and Seamus Ennis as staff field recorders. For some 15 years the two of them
produced a weekly broadcast of their field recordings entitled "As I Roved
Out." One of the first singers they recorded was Sarah Makem, the mother of
Tommy Makem, who was still living in Armagh at the time.
The historic, ethnomusicological, aside, this CD is eminently good
listening. Specially noteworthy are some great voices, great singing and
great songs. Maire O'Sullivan has one of the warmest voices I've heard
in a sean nós singer but it is also light and clear.
Familiar songs include "The Rocks of Bawn", "She Moved
Through the Fair" (with Margaret Barry accompanying herself on 5-string
banjo), and "Whiskey in the Jar." "Morrissey and the Russian Sailor" is a
hilarious song I've never heard, recorded in front of a very
appreciative audience. It is counter-balanced by a chilling keen for a dead
child, sung by Kitty Gallagher. Dance music includes "The Copperplate", "The
Bucks of Oranmore", "The Lark in the Morning", and "The Maid of Mount Cisco"--tunes
we play in Atlanta sessions almost 50 years later and thousands of miles away.
Lomax was searching for
"immemorial Gaelic lyric songs, the
English narrative ballads of 17th and 18th c. settings, [dance music], and
the even older traditions of the lullaby, the work song and the
death-lament. A singer ... he seems to have been mainly on the lookout for
song in Ireland" ...
|His collecting (or at least the sample on this album) reflects this: 26 vocal tracks,
7 instrumental, and 1 dance with whistle. Performers are: Seamus Ennis (8
tracks; vocal, whistle and pipes), Maire O'Sullivan (4), Elizabeth
Cronin (3), Kitty Gallagher (2), Ballinakill Ceilidhe Band (2), Johnny
McDonagh (2), Seamus Ennis & Steven Folan, Margaret Barry, Gubnait Cronin,
Mickey Cronin, Mickey Doherty, Mary Joyce, Colm Keane, Marie Keohane, Maggie
McDonagh, Sean McDonagh, Sean Moriarty, Kate Moynihan.
One complaint - there's about 51 minutes of music on the disc. I wish
Rounder had included additional unreleased material. In spite of that,
this album gets an A and is a good candidate for my personal
favorites list. I particularly recommend it for sean nós (old style)
For more info on Lomax and his collecting, see www.rounder.com/rounder/artists/lomax_alan/.
Thanks go to Matthew Barton of The Lomax Collection
(lomax@Mindspring.com) for some of the
information about Alan Lomax and this CD.
Site design by David Marcus © 1998