Four Shillings Short,
Dodging Lodging
(self-produced, 2000)

Dodging Lodging is a relatively recent release featuring Christy Martin on vocals, hammered dulcimer, mandolin, sitar and bodhran, and Aodh Og O Tuama on vocals, tinwhistles, recorder, spoons and dumbek. It is a selection of their work recorded at various concerts from 1997 through 1999.

For a live CD, there's very little representation of the audience. There's some sparse clapping at the end of some of the tunes, and it's usually clipped quite short. Because it was recorded in different venues, there are some inconsistencies in the recording quality among the selections. And there are occasional mistakes that, for the most part, are forgivable because it is a live recording. However, given the duo's concert schedule, I would have thought they could have culled more selections that were of better quality over the course of three years to put this CD together.

The duo's style is unique and inventive. Most tunes on the CD stray from the traditional version in intriguing ways. The first cut is a medley of traditional Irish tunes including "Behind the Haystack" (a.k.a. "Munster Buttermilk"), "Banish Misfortune" and a tune they call "The Blarney Turk." If you listen carefully, you'll realize that it is "The Blarney Pilgrim," played by moving the dulcimer pattern up one string on the dulcimer, changing the key to E phrygian. Several other songs on the recording have either variations of the melody or variations of the words that keep listeners on their toes, making their performance a "thinking person's" entertainment. You have to pay attention, because the song may not end the way you think it should, as in "Oh my darlin', whatshername." And while there are songs on this CD I've never liked (I think "The Irish Ballad" is one of the most tasteless songs ever written), the duo has a good selection of American and Irish folk songs that showcase their talents. There's also a wonderful song that Martin wrote, called "Spousal Equivalent," that is a spoof on modern relationships. It's cleverly written and a real treat.

The dulcimer isn't Martin's strongest instrument, and there are so many mistakes in the first cut I wouldn't have included it at all, much less made it the first cut on a recording, especially since there is an additional piece ("Cooley's Reel/Pigeon on a Gate/The Dunmore Lasses") that proves she's better than that. However, she employs the dampers on her dulcimer in the most judicious way I've ever heard. Many dulcimer players just use them cause they're there, and the effect, especially in Irish music, can be awful.

Unfortunately, in the middle of this Irish-American folk music, there's an eleven-minute sitar piece. It's not that I don't like sitar music -- I do, especially when I'm sitting in an Indian restaurant. And to my untrained-sitar ear, it sounds like a masterfully executed piece. However, it's so different from everything else on the CD, it seems totally out of place. Perhaps if there were some explanation other than it's the oddest and longest Raga they know, it would have made sense.

Which brings me to another pet peeve. Normally, when I look at a CD, I'm looking at a whole package. The cover and liner notes complement the music, and there's usually some kind of theme that draws the whole presentation together. From that perspective, the cover and liner notes for Dodging Lodging provide no help whatsoever. Plenty of comments are provided for each tune, but there's no reference to the title of the CD and what it might mean, or what the pictures on the cover have to do with anything -- they certainly don't seem to be representative of any of the tunes. The end result makes me feel like I'm looking at some kind of inside story.

And yet, for all its quirks, after listening to the whole CD, I would really like to see these folks perform. Martin's voice is powerful, with a broad range, and it balances well with O Tuama's rich tenor and Irish brogue. The overall personality of this CD is fun, alternative, clever, energetic and perfect for folks who like their traditional music served up in a nontraditional style.

[ by Alanna Berger ]
Rambles: 5 January 2002