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THE USHER FAMILY - Traditional Singing From County Louth

THE USHER FAMILY - Traditional Singing From County Louth
Rossendale Records MUS010

The Usher family may not ring many bells with everyone, until you realise that one of them, Mary Ann, became Mary Ann Carolan, one of Ireland’s most iconic singers and a source of inspiration to many, right across the British Isles and beyond. Less well known was her brother Pat, who is also extensively featured here (and deservedly so), along with a solitary track from a cousin, Petey Curran.

This is a remarkable recording on many levels. Made by a (then somewhat younger) Donal Maguire in 1974, some four years or so before the classic Topic recordings and a few years after Sean Corcoran’s first visits to the family, the tapes remained unpublished until now and are a very welcome addition to the traditional song canon. Donal’s cleaned the recordings up in expert fashion, but has left in all those little things that allow the atmosphere to permeate the songs – little asides, fingernails rapping on the table, etc. The result is very close to studio quality, but more human.

The songs themselves range from the humour and inventive rhyming of the (seven) John Sheil songs – of which Pat seems to have been particularly fond - through the classic beauty of Mary Ann’s Maid Of Ballymore to Petey’s Johnny And Molly, his sole contribution to this recording, but a song that has received a considerable currency over the years. All are well performed and I enjoyed hearing Mary Ann’s singing in the family context – certainly her brother Pat was no mean singer himself and nor was Petey. All acknowledged a debt to Mary Ann and Pat’s father, Pat Snr. The repertoire is eclectic; there are songs here that are familiar to a southern English ear, while others are obviously Scots in origin. Music hall is represented as well as sentimental material like The Little Old Mud Cabin On The Hill. All are well sung. Sean Corcoran observed that, living in County Louth, the Usher family was geographically and linguistically at the interface of the Ulster Scots and Southern Irish traditions, and the result is a veritable feast of fine songs – a pure delight.

To sum up, I have only one criticism of this CD: at 22 tracks and about 70 minutes or so, it is too short. I could happily listen to a great deal more of this sort of thing and can recommend it unreservedly. It won’t be going far from my CD player in the foreseeable future.

And one final suggestion for Mr Maguire: how about a compilation of John Sheil songs from a range of singers – surely he was one of the most prolific, entertaining and talented songwriters of the early 19th century?

John Waltham

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This album was reviewed in Issue 102 of The Living Tradition magazine.