Listening to Ireland: Songs, Stories, Fiddles, Guitars

ireland old stone wall louth by kerry dexter

Ireland: it is a land of myth and legend, story and history, and vibrant twenty first century country too, whose people have their own challenges and success in modern day life. One thing that bridges time and adds perspective to day to day life in Ireland is music. Music that draws from and advances the long story of the traditional music is especially good for this. Give a listen:

Irish musician John Doyle by Kerry Dexter

John Doyle is a creative guitarist and producer, native of Ireland who has also lived in the United States. He has worked with musicians including Alison Brown, Michael Black, Joan Baez, and Cathie Ryan among others. That he is also a gifted songwriter is a talent that he’d kept somewhat in the background until his album Shadow and Light. There are emigration stories and a tale of an emigration that did not quite happen, too. a song of love for a child and a tale of lost love and the wild west. All fo them sound as though they could have come from the tradition, updated with Doyle’s adventurous guitar, but they are new songs of his own composition, ones that stand well in company with what has come before.

mary black dublin kerry dexter
Dublin native Mary Black has a gift for choosing songs from contemporary writers that ring with the same clarity and poetry that lasting music from the tradition does. She sings songs drawn from the tradition too, but as she points out, the music in her house growing up included show tunes her mother loved, her father’s traditional fiddle playing, influenced by ties to Scotland on Rathlin Island where he grew up, and singer songwriter material to which her brothers introduced her. All that forms a background of sorts to the music Black has chosen for Down The Crooked Road – The Soundtrack. On the road for more than thirty years now, Black has decided it is time to call an end to long and constant touring. One of the ways she is making and marking this transition is through writing an autobiography called Down the Crooked Road. There are dozens if not hundreds of pieces of music which come in for mention in the book, naturally and lines from songs are often used as chapter titles; for the recording Black has chosen eighteen tracks from across her career, some well known, others less familiar. Listen out especially for two of those iconic songs, No Frontiers and Song for Ireland, as well as gems like Faith in Fate, I Live Not Where I Love, and Schooldays Over. Have no worries that Mary Black is giving up singing, either; she’ll still sing in Ireland, she says, and do the occasional festival and benefit gig too. It is just the long the international travels on the road she’s closing down.

Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh of Altan by Kerry Dexter
The members of Altan — Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh on voice and fiddle, Ciaran Curran on bouzouki, Ciaran Tourish on fiddle, vocals, whistles and low whistle, Dáithí Sproule on guitar and voice, Mark Kelly on guitar and voice, and Martin Tourish on accordion and keyboard — are grounded in the fiery fiddle style and dramatic landscape of Donegal in Ireland’s far northwest. They often explore connections to other sorts of music, though. For their recording The Widening Gyre they decided to look at the connections of to the music they know so well with that made in the Appalachian south of the United Staates. They traveled to the Nashville studios of Compass Records Group to record, which gave them the opportunity to invite musical guests from Americana, bluegrass, and country genres along. Mary Chapin Carpenter, Bruce Molsky, Tim O’Brien, and Alison Brown are among those who add their gifts to the music. It is Altan’s vision and sound which anchor and inform the project, though, whether that finds Ní Mhaonaigh in a duet with Molsky on the Americana song No Ash Will Burn or singing with quiet power a song two Irish friends wrote for her after her father had died called Far Beyond Carrickfin, Sproule playing with grace a slow air he composed called Tune for Mairead and Anna, or Triple T, a piece Ciaran Tourish wrote for his son Thomas which becomes an all star jam including Donegal and Americana elements.

Whether your travels to Ireland are of geography or through imagination, music such as John Doyle, Mary Black, and Altan make is always a fine companion.

All Photographs by Kerry Dexter. Thank you for respecting copyright.

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