A Review of the CD
"Danny Boy & Ballads"
by Nonie Crete and Eugene Rea with Curlew


"Danny Boy & Ballads"
by Nonie Crete and Eugene Rea with Curlew

(Sea Music: SEA 20025 )
copyright: Nonie Crete 2002.

http://www.noniecrete.com
mailto:noniec@sentex.net

This review is written by Dai Woosnam, daigress@hotmail.com, 11/02

As usual, I write this review from my home here in Grimsby, England. I tell you this to help explain why when two albums arrived on my desk from the Canadian female singer Nonie Crete, the name drew a blank with me. However, I quickly became aware from looking her name up on the Internet, that this lady has pulled up quite a few trees in her native country.

But us insular British! I swear we live inside a bubble. These two albums proved an education.

As I say, there were TWO albums, but I am choosing to review only one. Reason being that they were chalk and cheese. The first (1999) album “Moonlight Dreams” I did not care for: the second - this one - I cared for a LOT.

Perhaps I can best summarise my attitude to the first album by saying that the eleven tracks draw heavily on the lyric-writing ability of her good friend Eugene O’Neill. And whilst it’s true that he is clearly a poet of the old school (inasmuch as his poems – which is what they originally were - have an admirable regard for rhyme and rhythm), the truth is that these poems somehow do not survive the transition into SONG LYRICS.

I don’t think this is down to Ms. Crete, who has put a melody to each set of words. Even the melodic gift of a Richard Rodgers or a Paul McCartney would not save these “songs” from arriving DOA at the recording studio.

And this may be no reflection on the quality of the poetry. No Shakespeare sonnet has ever been successfully put to music yet. So Nonie Crete should realise that poems are often poems, and song-lyrics are song-lyrics, and (usually) “never the twain shall meet”.

And “realise” I think she did. For the second album sent me sees her singing more of her own compositions. And her own songs lend themselves to “singing” much more: and suit her voice, in a way that O’Neill’s somehow do not. And WHAT a voice! It was respectably good on the earlier album. But you would not believe the “difference in a voice” that three years bring! (To best describe it to you: there is something of the ethereal side of Joni Mitchell- say, one-third? - added to two thirds of the deep-rooted integrity of Jean Redpath.)

But of course, it is not just the “three years”: it is the fact that she is wearing a more comfortable pair of shoes, so-to-speak. For the masterstroke with this second album (apart from surrounding herself with very talented musicians, especially Eugene Rea) is the decision to add one or two familiar ballads. Oh no, not another “Danny Boy” I thought, on seeing the playlist. Can’t we have a moratorium on recording it?

But how wrong I was. Second time in recent weeks I have heard this old gem of a song well delivered. This time indeed, more than just “well”. A most moving musical arrangement, with some dramatic, soaring whistle. And she sang it so very thoughtfully: like she had just written it herself. Quite SUBLIMELY put across, in fact.

She chooses not to sing the “political” third verse (that Fred E Weatherly never wrote anyway!) and sings the song with great sincerity and wondrous breath control. It just breasts the tape marginally ahead of her version of Alistair McGillivray’s lyrical tribute to Cape Breton’s most famous river “The Mira”; and the traditional “Buachaill on Eirne”.

Unlike with “Moonlight Dreams”, there is no liner (lyric) booklet with this album. But that’s no loss: such is her beautiful diction, it is not needed. Plus, I must own up to being irritated beyond a tolerable level by that aforementioned booklet for the previous album.

No, not by the slipshod spell-checking (you know, silly little things like writing “to” when they mean “too”; or writing “intitled” when they mean “entitled”), but by her letting her/Eugene O’Neill’s partisan politics run full throttle.

Look, I have been known to sing “Kevin Barry” around the folk clubs. And as a British citizen, I never ever voted for Margaret Thatcher’s Party all the years she was in power. But the anti-Thatcher comment alongside one of the songs is both partly factually incorrect and also the basest form of agitprop sentiment.

Trust me (as someone who has claimed unemployment benefit in his life): in the UK nobody is forced to take just ANY job (under threat of losing dole money). Why else do we have countless economic refugees overflowing a Red Cross camp in France in order to try to come and live here? The Channel Island state of Jersey has no unemployment benefit, and no desperate Red Cross people queuing up to live there.

But hey, this is a record review. I should not bring politics into it. (Ah, STRIKE THAT! After all, it was not ME who brought politics into this earlier album!)

So let me take a breath. Let me try to steer clear of politics. And, lets hope Nonie will too.

And, what do you know? I am pleased to say that generally speaking, this new album is a politically- “non-contentious” zone.

Not that the leopard can totally change her spots with this - much better - new album. I pounced on something regarding “Danny Boy”.

Now, I applaud her for giving credit to the Englishman Fred E. Weatherly who wrote the slightly mysterious, but ever-so-memorable lyric. But I also note that she cannot resist calling the melody “The Derry Air”. How ridiculous! How appallingly “Politically Correct”!

Apart from the fact that the very word “Derry” is a cocked-up attempt by a non-Gaelic speaker to pronounce the original name for the settlement “Doire”, the word “London” won’t contaminate your vocal chords, you know! Ha!

It brings to mind Lennie Bruce’s famous advice re four letter words: “It is only a WORD man: it won’t BITE you!”

Look, I have no problem with Shinners calling the city and county “Derry”, and Orangemen calling it “Londonderry”. It is difference of opinion that makes for horse races. (Mind you, I personally am drawn to that great Derry broadcaster Gerry Anderson, who famously said that the best way to overcome the Derry/Londonderry perennial debate, was to call it “STROKE CITY”! I reckon that is absolutely inspired thinking.)

But for Nonie to call it here “The Derry Air”, is to lapse back into the worse type of “PC-ness” she exhibited in the earlier album. Look, since Weatherly’s words were added, it has usually been known as “The Londonderry Air” : though, pre his input, I believe it enjoyed some fame Down Under in Australia as “The Air From County Derry”.

But “The Derry Air” makes me think of a girl in Les Folies Bergère as she lifts her skirts and points her rear at the audience! Surely such a beautiful tune demands a more felicitous name? (Mind you, I am hoist by my own petard here: as a red-blooded male, I happen to think a pretty posterior is just about a woman’s best physical feature!)

Hey, enough of all this. Let me bring my musing to a close.

So, after telling you not to buy the ”Moonlight Dreams” album, let me urge you to purchase “Danny Boy & Ballads”. An impressive album from a singer with real gravitas.

Dai Woosnam
Grimsby, England
daigress@hotmail.com

Track List:


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