Copyright 1995 (Cry Of A Dreamer) HNCD 1391
Copyright 1998 (The Orchard) LM CD 002
This review is written by Kevin McCarthy, 6/00
"Kevin and Maxine’s Celtic & Folk Music CD Reviews"
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Setting poetry to music. Like most things, it can be done well or poorly. Sean Tyrrell displays citizenship in the initial category, being today's foremost celtic master of the art. Others, such as Loreena McKennitt with "The Lady Of Shalott," certainly have experienced notable success but Tyrrell's quality and quantity puts him at the forefront of this practice.
Tyrrell liberally sprinkles poetry-to-music throughout both his releases. His trilogy of John Boyle O'Reilly's "Message of Peace," "Cry Of The Dreamer" and "Only From Day To Day" on the "Cry Of A Dreamer" CD, deftly blends harangues against the hypocrisy and excesses of the rich and powerful with pleas to live for the honorable and simple fullness of the present.
"Message of Peace" depicts a despot, his coffers overflowing with stolen gold and his conscience unstricken despite countless atrocities committed in his name, "getting religion" and announcing peace should prevail . Doubting the scoundrel's sincerity, Tyrrell sings:
"...To the ends of the earth his oppression runs,
While the rebels are blown from the mouths of his guns.
His war-tax devours his subjects' food;
He taxes their evil, he taxes their good;
He taxes their salt 'til it rots their blood.
And leaps on the friendless as on a prey,
And slinks, tail-down, from the strong one's way.
The pharisee's cant goes up for peace,
But the cries of his victims never cease;
The stifled voices of brave men rise
From a thousand cells; while his rascal spies
Are spending their blood-money fast and free..."
In the wistful "Cry Of The Dreamer," Tyrrell wearily sings:
"I am tired of planning and toiling
In the crowded hives of men;
Heart weary of building and spoiling
And spoiling and building again.
And I long for that dear old river,
Where I dreamed my youth away;
For a dreamer he lives forever,
And a toiler will die in a day
I am sick of the showy seeming
Of a life that is half a lie;
Of the faces that are lined with scheming
In the throng that hurries by.
From the sleepless thoughts' endeavor
I would go where the children play..."
Sermonizing that people's focus should be on what is real and truly important in "Only From Day to Day," he offers:
"Only from day to day
The life of a wise man runs
What matters if season far away
Have gloom and double sums?
To climb the unreal path
We stray from the road way here
We swim the rivers of wrath
We tunnel the hills of fear
Our feet on the torrent's brink,
Our eyes on the clouds afar,
We fear the things we think,
Instead of the things that are..."
Tyrrell also provides rhythmic, toe-tapping versions of the short story-like "Mattie" and the happy-ending "Blue Green Bangle" on "Cry Of A Dreamer." The mournful, Uilleann pipes-backed "Isle of Inisfree" expresses the universal sentiment of so many immigrants:
"I met some folks who say that I am a dreamer
I've no doubt there's truth in what they say
Yet a man is bound to be a dreamer
When all the things he loves are far way
And precious things they're dreams unto an exile
They take him over the land across the sea
Especially when it happens that he's an exile
From that dear lovely Isle of Inisfree..."
Lamenting separation from a beloved in "Connie's Song," Tyrrell sings:
"My curse on the sea it has torn us apart
Keeps me away from the love of my heart
I'm left in this town all alone with my sorrow
And no sight of her face today or tomorrow...
A bed of twigs was my bed last night
But I cast them away when the dawn was bright
With my loved one beside me how happy we'd rest
My mouth to her mouth her breast to my breast."
He continues in the sorrowful vein with "Fortune For The Finder:"
"Lonely lanes and dusty byways
They will hide my way tonight
I will always make them my ways
I'm escapin' from the light.
Love gone sour in the mornin'
Like a wilted flower it quickly dies
Caring not the time it's born in
Or the heart in which it lies..."
A quiet forcefulness drives John Frazier's patriotic poem "The 12th of July." Tyrrell, in the first verse, sings:
"Come pledge again your heart and your hand
One grasp that never will sever
Our password be our native land
Our motto 'love forever.'
And let the Orange lily be
Your badge my patriot brother
The everlasting green for me
And we for one another..."
A plea for respectful unity, the setting aside of differences and the embrace of commonalities, "Rising Of The Moon," opens the selections on "The Orchard." Tyrrell sings:
"...May the wisdom of the Ancients with their messages and signs
Come to shine on our tomorrows, with the magic of their time
Like a star that shone on the wise men, like the dawn that's coming soon
It's the truth that guides us onward at the Rising of the Moon
We can live within God's garden, if we tend her with our care
We can understand the meaning and the motives of the fair
Tho' we stumble thru the darkness trying far too much too soon
Let's all stand up and be counted at the Rising of the Moon..."
The deliberately-paced title cut, "The Orchard" sweetly recalls highlights of the protagonist's life, moments from ages nine, thirteen, nineteen, twenty-one, forty-five and ninety-one. He marries at twenty-one, displaying Irish tongue-in-cheek humor by saying of the celebration "and when the day was over there was a drunk for every tree." The connection to the land, in particular the orchard that is a constant in his life, is prominent with the last two lines of the cut:
"...And when I die I want to lie in the air, land, and foam
In that orchard neath the Comeraghs by my sweet Dungarvan home."
"The Lights Of Little Christmas" is a delightful tune about reconciliation. Tyrrell sings:
"When the snow lies on the hillside like the ghost of being born
And the wind makes praying fingers in the shadows of the thorn
There's someone I often think of wishing, somehow she'd return
Though I know she's in some city watching coloured neons burn...
...Now another winter marches 'cross the fields of frozen stone
And another Little Christmas finds me quietly at home
Til the telephone starts ringing and I go to take the call
Someone asking, 'Do you know me, do you know this voice at all?'...
...She says I just got into Shannon and I think I'm back to stay
You could come and pick me up down here but there's a word you've got to say
And I've barely put the phone down and the keys are in my hand
and each little light that I pass by says right here's your promised land..."
"One Eye Open" is an eerie, powerfully-written tune about struggle. Tyrrell opens with:
"You're fighting with one hand behind you
And you're kicking with one shoe undone,
It's not easy to give up the battle
'Till you know that the fighting is won, for you.
The bottle may wash what you're thinking
'Till you've got no more time on your side
And your brave bouts of passion may guide you,
'Till they batter away all your pride, of lions..."
The chorus goes:
"...But I can't sleep through the night anymore,
I can't sleep through the night anymore,
I can't sleep through the night anymore,
With one eye open..."
Tyrrell follows with an exquisite version of W.B. Yeats' poem "Song Of The Wandering Aengus." The next cut, the perfectly-placed instrumental "Roisin Came With The Wren Boys," gently allows time to savor Yeats' magic.
The angry "Game Over" changes the mood. Written to lambaste the shortsightedness and inanity of despoiling the earth and driving species to extinction, Tyrrell combines Phil Gaston's lyrics with his own tune:
"See the blood spout, steaming, gleaming
Dark the ocean, dark and streaming
There she blows and there we slaughter
The whale nations last sons and daughters...
...What can we do? How can we master
The greed and blindness that pushes faster
Where money screams and wisdom withers
The eagle falls - the lion shivers..."
The late Michael Hartnett's poem, "The Ghost of Billy Mulvihill," is given a great rendition. Tyrrell, using bodhran, saxophone and electric guitar to spooky effect, sings:
"While looking out my window in the heart of Dublin 4
The ghost of Billy Mulvihill was walking by my door.
What was he doin' walkin' on Upper Leeson Street?
A cardboard suitcase in his hand and hobnails on his feet
He flashed up at my window his old big toothed grin
But I moved back in the shadows and I wouldn't let him in
As I moved behind the curtain and beat a cowards retreat,
The ghost of Billy Mulvihill walked up Leeson Street
He vanished in the traffic his suitcase full of sin,
I knew he wanted comfort but I wouldn't let him in
That night as I sat writing the clock said nearly four,
The ghost of Billy Mulvihill stood on my kitchen floor
'The fight you're fighting Mikey is a fight you'll never win'
But I locked the door inside my head and I did not let him in..."
Tyrrell's solid, commanding vocals play well with his chosen material. He also demonstrates a keen sense for selecting instrumental backing that charmingly enhances the overall effect of his offerings. What is readily apparent from these two releases is that this is a man of strong convictions and passions, a man who has raised a glass or two in company with both angels and demons during his life. Luckily, for us, he's sharing all this.
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