Frank Harte,
Dublin Street Songs
Through Dublin City

(Hummingbird, 2004)

If it's easy listening you want, Frank Harte is not the name that jumps to mind immediately. If you want to hear authentic folk songs of Dublin and you want them without being "prettified" or commercialized, Frank is "your only man."

This collection of 20 tracks will transport you to the streets of the "fair city" in decades and centuries past. Listening to the CD you can imagine yourself standing on Sackville Street as the broadsheet sellers touted their wares as they came hot off the press.

Not that all the songs are uniquely Irish. He opens with "Henry My Son" and his excellent insert booklet tells us that it is a European ballad. This is hardly surprising as Dublin was a major city of the British empire and like all ports it attracted a cosmopolitan population similar to the current intercultural mix.

"The Night of the Ragman's Ball" is another of those top-class comic, epic tales like "Finnegan's Wake" or "Phil the Fluters Ball." Frank gives us all nine verses. He then goes back to the turbulent year of 1798 for a number of songs such as "Father Murphy," who is perhaps better remembered in "Boolavogue."

One of the better-known songs is the gruesome "The Night Before Larry was Stretched," an often-sung execution song. Zozimus was a character in old Dublin and "The Finding of Moses," a song that the Dubliners often performed, represents his work.

He does not confine his search for good songs to the city. "Rosemary Fair" was collected from Liz Jeffries (better known as Jeffares in Wexford) of Kilmore Quay. It is a song that travels the world in many guises. The best-known variant is probably Simon & Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair."

A number of these songs have been recorded by the more commercial singers -- songs like "Matt Hyland" and "The Connerys" -- but with Frank Harte you get as close to the original as you are likely to get. With a genuine rendition, lyrics and notes on the background, this is the best introduction you will find to the songs our fathers knew -- as they knew them.

Here you get the ballad doing the job it was invented to do -- telling our story.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 8 January 2005