This review is written by Kevin McCarthy, 1/04
"Kevin and Maxine’s Celtic & Folk Music CD Reviews"
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First, a bit of background information: Henry Marten was a English lawyer and parliamentarian who paid for his support of the Irish cause with a treason conviction and subsequent imprisonment until his death in the late 1600s.
Henry Marten's Ghost, the band, not the disembodied spirit, consists of Padraig Lawlor on guitar and vocals; Piotr Jordan on fiddle; Chris Knipe on mandola and Maire McSorley on bodhran.
Lalor is Belfast-born. Jordan is a Polish native and Knipe hails from Cumbria. So why the connection of the band to this fallen man of conscience? Foremost is the songs this quartet offers featuring historical events and many figures who gave their all in the struggle for Irish independence.
Is there a standout aspect to this release? Yes, it is Lalor's commanding vocals. Not to diminish the other members' quality contributions, but Lalor's singing commands attention. He is clear, concise and compelling--the quality of vocals that eventually quiet down a bursting-at-the-seams pub person-by-person, until all heads are turned towards the direction of the marvelous sounds.
Some familiar songs are presented: "Spancil Hill," "The Galway Shawl," "Step It Out Mary" and "Carrickfergus." But others, new at least to this set of ears, are "Grace," "Follow Me Up To Carlow," "Tom Williams," and "Only Our Rivers Run Free."
The latter touchingly concludes the release. Lalor sings of Ireland before its independence:
"...I drink to the death of her manhood,"Back Home In Derry," credited to the pens of hunger striker Bobby Sands and Irish music icon Christy Moore, details the torturous conditions prisoners encountered, both while being shipped to Australia and once ashore. A snippet:
Those men who would rather have died
Than to live in the cold chains of bondage,
To bring back their rights were denied..."
"...I cursed them to hell as our bow fought the swellIn 1942, 19-year-old Tom Williams found himself at the wrong end of a noose in Northern Ireland for an altercation that resulted in the death of a constable. In the song of his name, sometimes known as "Brave Tom Williams," the death of this IRA member is lamented and his courage saluted.
Our ship danced like a moth in the firelights
White horses rode high as the devil passed by
Taking souls to Hades by twilight..."
A farewell letter, the wistful "Grace" is based upon Joseph Plunkett's poem "Blood Upon The Rose." Joseph Plunkett married Grace Gifford just before he was shot by a British firing squad for his support of the 1916 Easter Rising.
An emigrant's fond wish of returning to both Ireland and his love turns out to unfortunately just be a dream in "Spancil Hill."
The toe-tapping rhythms of "Step It Out Mary" and "Follow Me Up To Carlow," songs covering widely divergent subject matter, are engaging. In the former, a young lady chooses suicide over a forced marriage, while the latter details one of the few victories of battle achieved by Irish rebels.
"...Carlow," about the defeat of Lord Grey de Wilton and Sir William Fitzwilliam by Fiach McHugh contains this lovely line: "...Now from Taggart to Clonmore flows a stream of Saxon gore..." Whew.
Although politics and music can sometimes make an uneasy marriage (see The Dixie Chicks), this is a band to watch. They cover the traditional quite well and also provide oomph with their unequivocal stance on the many trials and tribulations in the quest for Irish independence.
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