A St. Patrick's Shuffle
A day late. Ah, well, the Irish will forgive me. Click on the links to go to videos.
1. "Be Good Or Be Gone" / Fionn Regan
From End of History (2006)
Cool indie-folk acoustic. This young guy from Bray is quite a poet, with an especially winsome, tentative tenor. This debut album is still one of my faves. "I have become an aerial view / Of a coastal town / That you once knew." Well, now that you put it that way...
2. "Ireland" / Greg Trooper
From Everywhere (1992)
It's not about the country, it's about a woman, a woman he loves. And yeah, so what, Greg Trooper isn't Irish (he's from New Jersey, via Nashville) and this song has his usual folk-country twang--but it's extra jiggy, with a delicious fiddle. "When I'm with you it feels so right, / My wallet's full on Friday night / My ship has docked, my kingdom's come / And my heart's on fire and over-run...." Love this song.
3. "Better Not Wake the Baby" / The Decemberists
From What a Terrible World, What a Wonderful World (2015)
Another of my "honorary" Irish tunes. Lead singer and songwriter Colin Meloy must have suckled on some Celtic teat in his Montana childhood, because most everything his band does has a half-demented tragi-folk quality, like as not loaded up with fiddle and squeezebox. This song is a tasty brew, half Brecht and half The Honeymooners, as a warring couple square off at each other. Another of the great Irish themes.
4. "The Lowlands of Holland" / Natalie Merchant and the Chieftains
From Tears of Stone (1999)
Yes, that Natalie Merchant, from 10,000 Maniacs, but she sure sounds Irish, right down to the yelpy flutter in her voice, when backed by the Chieftains, the most Irishest band of all. It's one of those traditional songs that everyone's given a spin, but a poignant one, as a young solider's widow grieves his death fighting another country's war far away. (Love, loss, and homesickness -- they say this song was originally British, but how could the Irish not have appropriated it?). Penny whistle and concertina and all,
5. "Mo Ghile Mear" / Sting and the Chieftains
From The Wide World Over (2002)
Sting sure does get all emotional about Celtic folk stuff -- he's even singing Gaelic in the chorus. ("My Gallant Darling" -- it's meant to be the goddess Eire grieving for Bonnie Prince Charlie.) It's easy to make fun of Sting, he takes himself so seriously, but I have to admit this is a pretty fine vocal. And of course the bodhrans help.
6. "Star of the County Down" / Van Morrison
From Irish Heartbeat (1988)
Well, here's the real deal -- Sir Van Morrison of Belfast. It's another of those songs that everyone sings, but really, who ever could sing it better than Van the Man? The chorus to this runs through my head whenever I look at a map of Ireland: "From Bantry Bay up to Derry quay / And from Galway to Dublin town, / Not a lass I've seen like a brown colleen that I met in the County Down."
7. "Living in America" / Black 47
From Fire of Freedom (1992)
Ah, Larry Kirwan -- the great transplanted Celtic rocker and bard of the pre-Celtic Tiger Irish immigrant experience. The life he describes in this thrashing anthem (still with fiddles and penny whistles!) is just what I've heard from all the nannies and construction guys I know here in New York. "In the cold daylight, I feel like shite / And I can't remember last night's fun / Then the foreman says, "Come on now boys, / Stick your fingers down your throats and get to work" . . . Oh mammy dear, we're all mad over here / Living in America."
8. "Erin Gra Mo Chroi" / Cherish the Ladies
From The Girls Won't Leave Boys Behind (2001)
That yelpy flutter Natalie Merchant had? This is what she was aiming for. Deidre Connally is the lead singer here, but all the women of Cherish the Ladies go for the most authentic Irish sound they can get (even though they're mostly Irish-Americans). And this is one of the homesickest songs you'll ever hear. "When St. Patrick's Day has come / My thoughts will carry me home / To that dear little isle so far away" -- well, it may sound mawkish, but that fiddle is irresistible. Go see the movie Brooklyn already.
9. "We Are Everywhere" / Pugwash
From Play This Intimately (As If Among Friends) (2015)
One of my great discoveries of this past year, this lovely power-pop band from Dublin. Here they get their psychedelic "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" thing on, all woozily melodic with shape-shifting chords. FYI: Recorded at the Kinks' Konk.
10. "Sayonara" / The Pogues
From Hell's Ditch (1990)
Dig Shane MacGowan's slurred vocals, perfect for this Celtic punk drunkard's lament, whether faked or real. (This was his last album with the band.) I think it's set in Asia, but those pennywhistles give it away -- that and the mournful sitting in a bar, looking across the sea, feeling sorry for himself. One more Irish rover....