Henry Marten's Ghost,
High on Spirits
(Blackhorse, 2005)

High on Spirits is the latest album possessed by Henry Martin's Ghost, a creature of great personality and immediately endearing character.

It's a character of almost overwhelming energy, driven by Piotr Jordan's ever-present fiddle from the opening notes of "The Jolly Beggarman." Jill O' Shea's whistle carries the sentiment and poignant feeling that gives "Green Fields of France" the needed depth and controls the headlong rush of fiddle in "Charlie Harris', Finnish & Jessica's Polka." Huw Rees's drums provide an underlying strength and structure with understated rhythm and emphasis. Pete Lalor's occasional guitar performances highlight the band's dramatic flair in "Star of the County Down" and the "Monaghan Jig." It's a rare combination that shows off each performer while being completely interdependent and unified.

Henry Martin's Ghost has stories to tell, and even the dialogue of the instruments in "Rights of Man" and the energetic invitation of "An Unknown Reel" can't carry it all. So Padraig Lalor gives voice to the joy of "The Wild Rover" and the sly life of "The Jolly Beggarman." Peforming old favorites like "The Irish Rover," Lalor uses a plain, straightforward delivery that invites audience participation and home sing-alongs. His rough voice is put to more delicate work in "Green Fields of France," Eric Bogle's song of protest, delivered here with just the right mix of anger, grief and wounded confusion. "Star of the County Down" is sung with drama and enough real feeling to take it out of the realm of folk and verge on rock opera, all without changing the traditional arrangement of the song.

There are more polished Irish folk albums on the market. There are technically better singers, and perhaps even better musicians. But it would take a great deal of roving indeed to find a group or an album with more energy or more memorable character. Henry Martin's Ghost is good company, whose haunting conversation will keep you High on Spirits many a night.

by Sarah Meador
22 October 2005