Darby O'Gill,
Waitin' for a Ride
(self-produced, 1996; 2002)

I'm a bit disappointed in Darby O'Gill. They promise that Waitin' for a Ride is squirrel free, nothing to do with squirrels whatsoever. But I clearly heard not one, but two sure mentions of squirrels on the album.

Maybe they think they'll be forgiven just because that music is rollicking good fun. Waitin' for a Ride deals mostly in tall folktales and gregarious pub sing-alongs. Performed by W. Scott Messer with a clear alto and near gratuitous brogue, spiced-up arrangements of traditional tunes and occasional shiny new tracks introduce a parade of grand characters and lovely landscapes. Boasters cheerfully carry off the bonnie "Glasgow Peggy" and flaunt "The Kissin' of the Sheriff's Wife." The unexpected sweet regrets of "A Toast" and "Parnell Square" are standouts on an otherwise straightforward party of an album. After that brief rest, Darby O'Gill become even more hectic and engaging, delivering "The Kretchma" and the sly "The Night Pat Murphy Dies" in a conversational style that will draw a response even from the home listener. You may be lulled into a state of trust by the strangely easygoing "Whiskey in the Jar" or the pitiable tale of "Old Mary Catherine Bridgette O'Gill." You're sure to boggle at the fastest ever reading of Joyce's Finnegan's Wake. And then, at the close of the album, just as you're jouncing through the increasingly hectic "The Rattlin' Bog," the bloody squirrels poke in their heads!

So clearly Darby O'Gill is a band of scheming liars. They also made me laugh out loud five times before the album was done, and tear up at least once. A second listen for jokes lost in the racket of the first playing uncovered quiet levels of depth in the instrumental performance, especially on the more serious songs. Flourishes of percussion in "Birnie Bouzle/When Will We Be Wed" and Ken Andersen's gentle accordion in the heartugging "Toast" are easily overlooked in the emotional drama of Messer's and Art Kohnke's vocals. They have room to make all sorts of claims about raw talent, fine playing and affecting singing.

But they better be careful about the squirrels.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 27 September 2003

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