Paddy Hernon,
By Request
(Scuttlebutt, 1994)

This CD by folk singer-songwriter Paddy Hernon will be best appreciated by those who enjoy slow-paced songs -- ballads, sea shanties, waltzes and the like. Hernon's rich baritone voice does justice to his chosen material, and his guitar playing is wonderful. Being more enamoured with the faster stuff myself, this isn't an album which I'd listen to all in one sitting -- the pace just doesn't hold my attention long enough.

A schooner captain from Victoria, British Columbia, in Canada, it is not surprising that his album includes a good number of shanties and boatsongs. Hernon, on lead vocals and guitar, is joined by several others. Jake Galbraith contributes vocals, bass and guitar, Rick Van Krugel is found on vocals, mandolin and mandola. Also joining Hernon are Denis Donnelly (guitar), Mark Rodgers (cello), Neil Burnett (whistle), Bill Gallaher (vocals) and Mike McGuire (vocals).

Before listening to an album I tend to peruse the liner notes to get an idea of what I might hear. In this case, I was immediately struck by the variety of sources for Hernon's material. There are a number of Scottish shanties, a few of his own compositions (one of which is a poem from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring that he has put to music), a Tom Paxton song, and another which puts lyrics to Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony. Quite a mix!

The liner notes give lots of information on song origins and the like. Although Hernon notes that he would like to go into more depth, the notes are quite a bit more thorough than most you'd read, and contain some interesting bits and pieces. Hernon states that he intends to put together a songbook in the future with more complete notes and anecdotes -- which is something which I, for one, would look forward to reading.

Now, as for the music itself, I like Hernon's gentle guitar strumming, and deep, resonant voice. The instrumentals are cohesive, and quite pleasant, and the vocal harmonies work well. I would have to assume that (since he was born and raised in British Columbia) Hernon does not have a natural Scottish accent. In a few of the Scottish songs on the album however, he does a fine job of sounding like a true Scot. I'm not sure if I like that or not. Aye, it does add a good flavour to the songs, but it somehow seems just a wee bit ... out of place, perhaps.

"John o' Dreams," the lyrical version of Tchaikovsky's 6th, is quite interesting. It is rather intriguing to hear such a work in a vocal context, with the unconventional (symphony-wise) instrumentation of guitar, mandolin and cello. Likely not something that Tchaikovsky would have expected, but it sounds good to my ears! Likewise, "The Fireside Song," Tolkein's aforementioned poem, sounds wonderful set to a gentle melody.

Hernon's four a cappella songs, "Leaving Shanty," "The Mingulay Boatsong," "Shallow Brown" and "Wild Mountain Thyme," are quite well done. The harmonies are excellent -- intricate and soulful -- and this is where Hernon's vocal talents stand out the most.

Although I personally wouldn't describe this album as being extremely remarkable -- which probably just stems from my preference for more upbeat music, rather than any true shortcoming -- it is certainly a good piece of work. The vocal harmonies stand out, particularly on the unaccompanied tracks, and the instrumentals are consistent, with good flow. I would recommend it to anyone with an appreciation for a good shanty or an interest in the history behind traditional songs.

[ by Cheryl Turner ]
Rambles: 4 August 2001