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Dan Milner & Bob Conroy "Irish in America" Folk Legacy CD129

Dan Milner and Bob Conroy, via the estimable Folk -Legacy Records, bring forth an album that is a glowing example of scholarly research matched by honest grainy singing. It is what we used to call a 'concept album,' one with a range of songs gathered around a central topic, in this case the Irish experience in America from 1780 onwards. Irish men and women have for centuries been crossing the Atlantic in search of better times. Given the popularity of things Irish in present-day America it's a surprise to learn that they were once reviled in their new land. Thousands of people fleeing the potato famines of the 1840's found themselves, on seeking work, faced by notices reading 'No Irish Need Apply,' a phrase immortalised in song. The Jersey City Standard in 1859 thundered that the Irish were ". nothing but imported beggars, animals ... a mongrel mass of ignorance and crime and superstition, as utterly unfit for society's duties as they are for the common courtesies and decencies of civilised life." Nevertheless, history shows that perseverance overcame resistance, in time the Irish conquered in commerce, show business, and politics, right up to presidential selection.

The Irish know how to document their lives in song so it's no surprise to find a substantial body of such material open to diligent researchers. Milner and Conroy have chosen well from this songstock to give us fourteen pieces that fully bear out the album's title. Remember that this is not 'Irish music played in America' but music born and raised there as surely as were 'Buffalo Skinners' or 'John Henry' but fired into life by the Irish gift for self-expression. Thus we get tales of Irish working men, such as 'Scovill's Rolling Mill', a tour-de-force, given a restrained and entirely fitting piano accompaniment, and 'The Hard Working Miner', from Pennsylvania's anthracite mines, a song of union struggle set to the tune of 'Jock Stewart', and the Irish at play with songs like 'The Day I Played Baseball', 'The Portland County Jail', and 'The Roving Gambler', as good a version of that song as I have ever heard. 'Billy the Kid' is a surprise item. It seems that the baby-faced one was Henry McCarty, an immigrant son from New York who went under several aliases, notably William Bonney. The Irish involvement in American wars is reflected in 'The Sons of Liberty', 'The Irish Volunteer', and Pat Murphy of Meager's Brigade', a wonderful text, and a performance to do it justice.

The singing of both men suits their material perfectly. They have strong, keen edged, expressive voices and they sing with an honest simplicity that reveals the meaning at the heart of every song. A high class cast of chorus singers and backing musicians add their parts without intrusion. Four sets of tunes, and an informative book of song notes round out a totally exemplary album.

Roy Harris

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This album was reviewed in Issue 45 of The Living Tradition magazine.