A Review of the CD
"High On Spirits"
by Henry Marten's Ghost

"High On Spirits"
by Henry Marten's Ghost

Copyright 2005
Blackhorse Productions

This review is written by Kevin McCarthy, 4/05
"Kevin and Maxine’s Celtic & Folk Music CD Reviews"
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The cover of this CD depicts the tart with the cart, the Molly Malone statue on the corner of Dublin's Grafton and Suffolk streets, surrounded by a number of musical instrument-playing skeletons straight out of Grateful Dead casting. What it all means is open to question but this latest offering from Henry Marten's Ghost is definitely pure celtic.

So pure it should be required listening for any and all tourists disembarking at Shannon or Dublin airports. This is trad, what one would hear in a smoky pub (scratch that, now a smokeless pub thanks to new legislation) out in the west of Ireland--a straightforward melange of songs, guitar, fiddle and whistle.

There is the usual bit of roving here with "The Jolly Beggarman," "A Man You Don't Meet Everyday," "The Wild Rover" and "The Irish Rover."

"The Jolly Beggarman" is an rhythmic, upbeat and juicy 'farmer's daughter' tale, highlighted by enjoyable fiddle play. A touching fiddle opener also lowers the pace on "A Man You Don't Meet Everyman," which also features a charming whistle interlude.

The Patrick Kavanagh-written "Raglan Road" offers a number of dense, intriguing lines of word play not often found in celtic songs:

"...on Grafton Street in November
We tripped lightly along the ledge
Of a deep ravine where can be seen
The worth of passions pledged
The Queen of Hearts still baking tarts...

...I gave her gifts of the mind
I gave her the secret signs
That's known to the artists who have known
The true gods of sand and stone..."

It is followed by a duo of jumping tunes, "The Unknown Reel" and "The Lads of Laois Reel."

Discarding the roaming about behavior and settling down is the theme of "Wild Rover," leading into a pair of medium-beat polkas.

Eric Bogle's somber "Green Fields Of France" tells the tale of the trench warfare slaughter of World War I, taking an individual's perspective to all warfare.

The old chestnut "Star Of The County Down" comes next and is compellingly presented via a speedier than usual rendition.

The morality tale "Fields Of Athenry" paints a sinful picture of the British behavior during the famine.

A hornpipe instrumental, the "Rights Of Man," follows.

"The Irish Rover" is curiously preceded with a snippet of dialogue from "Treasure Of The Sierra Madre," the famous part where the Humphrey Bogart character asks to see the badges of the federales/banditos. Another rhythmic, fast-paced song, this apocryphal cut is a great closing choice.

Padraig Lawlor's vocals are not always pitch perfect but that adds to the authenticity, making the music even more 'real.'

What also especially 'works' in this release is the placement of each song. The pace changes from fast to slow to medium tempo and back to fast in such an order that none of the cuts 'fuse' together due to lack of variety--the listener always knows what number is playing.

For this kind of Irish folk music, one could try attending a banquet at Bunratty Castle, get lucky at a pub or purchase this CD. Choose the latter.

Henry Martyn's Ghost consists of Padraig Lawlor on vocals and guitar; Piotr Jordan on fiddle; Jill O'Shea on whistle and melodeon; and Huw Rees on drums. The namesake of the band is an English-born man who forsook the usual in-bred nationalism for humanism, and supported the cause of Irish independence. He paid the price for his beliefs with imprisonment and eventual death in 1680.

Track List:

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