The Green Fields of America,
The Green Fields of America
(Compass, 2013)

If you haven't heard the Green Fields of America, you must live in an envelope. The band was formed by Irish musician and folklorist Mick Moloney in 1978, and over the years it has pretty much set a record for firsts: they were the first band to present Irish stepdancers on stage in America, the first Irish band to be sponsored by the State Department (five times) and the first band to be put together indirectly by the Smithsonian, which hired Moloney to locate the best Irish musicians and dancers in this country.

But as daunting as their credits are, Green Fields of America remains first and foremost a band, a collective of musicians who bring dancers on tour with them. This album shows them at their best. Many of the songs are familiar, but that doesn't matter because when these musicians take on a tune, they make it their own.

The disc kicks off with a medley of reels, which the band plays with style and energy. The reels are followed by a vocal number, "The Rambling Irishman," about an Irishman who roams America, looking for work and love. Moloney handles lead vocals while John Doyle, who knows his way around a Celtic tune himself, contributes high harmony.

All of the songs on the disc are well chosen. There's a couple of originals: Robbie O'Connell contributes "The Islander's Lament," a strong ballad, but most of the music reflects the band's purpose: they are songs by Irish musicians living in America. One of the best songs, for example, "Across the Western Ocean," was found in the book Irish Emigrant Songs & Ballads, while the highlight of the disc, Stephen Foster's "The Glendy Burke," reminds us that Foster's great-grandparents were from Foster's Glen in County Kerry.

If you're a student of the Irish experience in America, you need this album. If you're a fan of traditional Irish music, you need this album. In fact, if you like music, you need this album. It's one of the fine ones.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

9 November 2013

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