Joe Giltrap,
Distant Memories
(New Sound, 2003)

Distant Memories is an album that, despite its quiet delivery, will rise up and smack you between the eyes. It is one of the best CDs I have heard in years, and I have listened to works from legends and new talent in that time.

Joe Giltrap started his musical career in the Dublin folk scene and has been involved in the genre ever since as a performer and manager of folk clubs. The long apprenticeship shows in the excellence of this album of 15 tracks of top-class material. Adding to the strength of this offering is that most of the tracks are self-composed -- some in collaboration with Pat Tynan.

The album opens with a beautifully simple but thought-provoking song from Giltrap's own pen. "Distant Memory" tells the tale of a elderly woman and her recollections of a long life and present loneliness. Anyone with a parent living alone should pay close attention to this song with lines like "and she longs to hear their knock upon her door." He brings us the words of the great Australian folksinger Archie Roach in another sad tale as a wife revisits the hospital ward where her husband died.

"The Colleen and the Soldier" has the feel of a traditional song but is another Giltrap original; his notes tell us it was inspired by seeing the tall ships leave Dublin some years ago.

At the centre of the album is "The John Kelly Trilogy." This tells in music the tale of the father of Ned Kelly, the infamous outlaw of Australia. I had not realised until I listened to these three songs that the bandit owes his ancestry to County Tipperary.

The first of the songs, "Cosa Bana" ("white feet" in Gaelic), is evocative and powerful. Using a basic accompaniment to underscore a lovely strong voice, he tells the tale so well we can almost visualise the prisoners: "young and old in chains they walked, with eyes that stared they never talked." The tempo lifts for "Clonbrogan," but the tale is melancholy as John "Red" Kelly recalls his homeland while he "lies in chains in Van Diemen's Land 10,000 miles away." The trilogy concludes with "No More Chains," as John moves from Tasmania to Australia in the hope of a better life, still far from his home.

Giltrap is a mean instrumentalist and brings this gift to the fore on "Mist on the Valley," which manages to produce a sound that reminds me of a combination of cowboy songs and the pop sound of the Shadows in the 1960s. He takes us to "High Germany" on a brilliant duet with Patty Vetta. The song, usually performed solo, has a whole new sound in this performance that brings the meaning of the lyrics to the fore.

My favourite track is another of his own compositions titled "The Iceland Maiden," which tells the story of the lives of fishermen as they trawl the sea, which is "their friend and their enemy, too."

The notes remind us of the origins of "Lorena" as a favourite of Confederate soldiers in the American Civil War, and Giltrap offers a spirited rendition here.

This is another of those albums that may prove difficult to find but please make the effort and, when you experience these performances, haunt your radio stations to play it. It deserves worldwide exposure.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 3 July 2004