A Review of the John Conolly CD
"Ranter's Wharf"

"Ranter's Wharf"
by John Conolly

(Independent label: JACD 02, 2004)

This review is written by Dai Woosnam, daigress@hotmail.com, 6/04

Here is an album to delight the many John Conolly fans the world over. None of them will feel short-changed by the 19 tracks that mostly represent the best of his recent songs and one or two songs written by chums of his.

And it is not just the quality of the songs: it's the SINGERS too. Note the plural: JC himself is in fine voice, but he is joined on this album by the voices of co-producer Robin Garside, Maggie Boyle, Bill Whaley and Dave Fletcher. And golly, they do him proud.

Bill and Dave are particularly convincing in their support. And their contributions peak with their singing on “Old Men Sing Love Songs”: the title track of an album of theirs. The words are by JC to the tune of “Some Tyrant Has Stolen My True Love Away” from the singing of Keith Kendrick.

Two tracks really stood out for me. The old mariners' hymn, “Never Weatherbeaten Sail” was just sublime. And John's song “Landless Paddy”: a song on a par with “Fields of Athenry” and a notch or two up from his own working of Masefield's poem “The Emigrant” (also on this album). I was surprised though to see that unlike with “Old Men Sing Love Songs”, here JC does not show the tune as trad. Clearly then, he must have written that melody too. But weirdly, I swear I can HEAR Tommy Makem singing that tune in my head. Could it be from an old Clancy Brothers LP of yesteryear?

(No doubt a coincidental “audio doppelganger”: JC is too honourable a man to lift a tune without attribution!)

Probably one track jarred slightly, his version of Dave Evardson's “Camping Nights and Roving Days”. Now I yield to nobody in my admiration for Dave's song-writing gift, but this is one of his weakest songs. It makes MacColl's hugely romanticised account of the Travelling People (“Freeborn Man”) seem like a warts-and-all portrait of gypsy life!

Overall, a rewarding album. Clean production. Every word as clear as a bell. Thus there was no need for a lyric sheet. JC realised this, and instead inserted two pages containing very illuminating short paragraphs on every one of the songs. I wish more artistes would follow suit.

Wherever you are in the world, you can get this persuasive new album by mail order fromwww.chanteycabin.co.uk.

Dai Woosnam
Grimsby, England

Track List: "JC" = John Conolly

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