You're Standing in My Light
(self-produced, 1999)

A donnybrook is an old slang term for a row or tussle. It is also a posh part of Dublin. Now I find that it is a band of musicians from Chicagoland who get together and produce some sweet Irish music. A new CD is reputedly in preparation but here we go with this 1999 release.

Following the opening track, an excellent set of extremely well-played reels, comes one of the absolutely best songs ever written. From the pen of Corkman Jimmy McCarthy, Liz Arwine gives "Bright Blue Rose" a lovely rendition to guitar and piano backing. If only for this song, the CD is worth buying. (Unfortunately, the liner notes do not give writing credits that I can find.)

Just about every Irish singer has sung "She Moved Through the Fair," from Van Morrison to Sinead O'Connor. Donnybrook goes one better here by leaving out the vocals and giving it a marvellous rendition on uillean pies and bouzouki. When the tune "hots up" it really gets the blood pumping. Pared back to voice and bodhran, the production of "The King of Ballyhooley" is a joy to listen to with witty lyrics and perfect diction. Arwine provides vocals again on Griffith's "Once In a Very Blue Moon" and does an excellent job once more with minimal backing.

The combination of instrumental and vocal work on this CD is excellent. The female voice is sweet and the male, Charlie Madigan, has a typical folksy sound. In fact, whereas most groups alternate vocal with instrumental tracks, these go one better and combine the two styles in some individual tracks. This works particularly well on "Galway's Grey Hill/Red Haired Boy."

"Black Jack Davey" is well known under a number of titles, but Donnybrook gives it a rendition that may bring us back to its original. The singing of Arwine on this track reminds me of an older Irish singing style, and Pat Broader's counterpart works very well. The old riddle song "I Will Give My Love an Apple" opens a cappella from Arwine and segues into a spirited tune with fiddle, banjo and whistle that runs for more than seven minutes.

Donnybrook certainly has a knack for choosing great songs. They close the CD with Foster's incomparable "Hard Times" and their presentation is top notch with lovely backing vocals. Who can hear this song well sung and not be struck with its beautiful lyric and tune?

Donnybrook is certainly a band to seek out. I would love to witness them in live performance to see if their obvious love of the material comes across. In the meantime, get this CD for lovely versions of songs you may have heard before -- it's time to renew your acquaintance with Donnybrook.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 12 April 2003