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MAURICE LEYDEN - The Tern And The Swallow

MAURICE LEYDEN - The Tern And The Swallow
Ashgrove Music ASH005

Co. Tyrone-born Maurice is a well-respected folksong collector, lecturer, writer and broadcaster (presenter of Downtown Radio’s Folkal Point show), also a regular performer at folk concerts and festivals, often in tandem with his wife Jane Cassidy. This admirably generously-stocked CD presents the true heart and soul of the Ulster tradition, and is the fruit of many years of researching, learning and singing songs from Maurice’s native province. Ten of the 17 selections are sung “raw bar” – i.e. unaccompanied – and it’s arguably these that provide the most direct expression of Maurice’s intense lifelong passion for Ulster folk song; his delivery, though not always especially highly decorated, nevertheless possesses a confident lilt that’s very attractive and both engages and maintains the listener’s attention, the line always being a thing of joy that’s rewarding to follow without distraction. Included amongst these solo performances we find the uplifting Emigrant’s Song, an animated version of Sweet John Is The Handsomest Man (using the tune sung by Mary Murphy), a well-paced variant of The Jug Of Punch, and some delightful discoveries including Young Kate Of Glenkeen and The Rose Of Moneymore. Oh, and Maurice can’t resist appending a “site-visiting song” of his own, The Virtual Lover, which one can’t accuse of not being “PC”!

For the seven instrumentally-accompanied tracks, Maurice has recruited some outstanding musicians – Andy Irvine, Arty McGlynn, Dermot Byrne, Conor Caldwell and Michael Clarkson, with additional support from Anna Leyden (Maurice’s daughter) and Trevor Stewart as well as a vocal chorus on two songs (Green Grows The Laurel and the suitably “well-met” closing anthem Here’s A Health). The instrumentation adds an atmospheric new dimension to the texts, especially hauntingly so on The Wee Weaver (to which Anna brings her voice and harmonium) and The Sweet Bogside with its combination of harmonium, whistle, fiddle and uilllean pipes. On just a few of the songs, however, the richly textured nature of the scoring feels a touch too much, perhaps due to an over-prominent piano part, but that’s my only minor quibble with this lovely collection of songs well sung, which comes with an equally magnificent booklet sporting full texts and excellent notes.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 117 of The Living Tradition magazine.