Joe Giltrap,
The Mountains of Mourne
(N2K, 2001; reissued, 2005)

Joe Giltrap is a true troubadour. He has been involved in music for decades in groups and lately as a solo artist. His range of interests is phenomenal when it comes to music. He writes his own material, he co-writes and interprets the works of other people. And he does each to perfection.

The opening track on this 18-track CD is called "Harmless Fun," and he uses it to lift our spirits with lovely playing, reference to Christy Moore and a light touch.

He has a knack of taking us into our history with a freshness that few can match. His singing of "When Margaret was Eleven" is one of the most beautiful anti-war songs I have heard in decades. The great Dublin writer Pete St. John wrote it and Giltrap makes it his own.

This re-released album gives old and new listeners an exciting opportunity to relive some of our Irish traditional songs. For years, during the "troubles," our national radio station avoided playing old rebel songs in fear of encouraging violence. It was probably a laudable idea but it served to deprive a generation of some excellent old songs. "The Rising of the Moon" is but one example given new life here. His rendition is less boisterous and is all the better for that.

"Clonbrogan" is a song he co-wrote about an area of his childhood in Ireland and its connection to Australian history through the father of Ned Kelly.

The fascinating thing about this album is how the old standards become so fresh and living. Usually we look at a track listing and groan as we see so many songs already in our collection.

We were growing understandably tired of the old tenor version of "The Mountains of Mourne," a wonderful witty song from the inimitable Percy French when Don McLean recorded it and revived a classic. Here, Giltrap takes that song and gives the tune and us a new experience.

We think of "Clare to Here" as being done so well by Ralph McTell or the Fureys, and we wonder how anyone else could improve on it. Giltrap may not improve it but he gives us a version that is up there with the writer's own and the well-known interpretation. "Boolavogue' is another song that has been done to death at weddings, wakes, funerals and a million pubs, but listen to this and relive a sad period of our history anew.

I can guarantee that you have not heard Bob Dylan's "Mr Tambourine Man" performed like this before. It is innovative, lively, lovely and worth buying the album just for this track and the other 17 as bonuses.

Just in case Joe gets too proud of this album -- as he well can be -- I must give a slight negative. Like all too many performers he takes an easy route in giving "trad" as the origin of some tracks. The title track is French and "Boolavogue" is McCall. Now, having given that slight downer, I look forward to more releases and eventually a live performance by Joe Giltrap.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 16 July 2005

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