The Irish Descendants,
The Best ... So Far, So Good
(Warner, 1999)

The Irish Descendants are one of Canada's premier traditional groups, basing much of their repertoire on Newfoundland's rich musical culture and contributing a few songs themselves. Their vocals and playing are superb, with tight harmonies and some very complex instrumentation. Although the line-up has undergone some changes over the eight years since their first independent release, the quality of the music has never suffered.

Featuring tracks from their five albums, released between 1991 and '98, the 19 selections do justice to the skill and diversity of styles the group is capable of. The strong male vocals, fantastic fiddling, beautiful guitar and whistle accompaniment and excellent percussion make each song wonderful to hear.

Unlike many groups who put together "best of" collections, the Descendents have included multiple selections off of their first two albums. Their first independent release, Misty Morning Shore, is not easy to come by, but two songs can be found here including a wonderful version of "Out from St. Leonards" by Gary O'Driscoll, who also produced the album. Their second, slightly easier to locate album, Look to the Sea, is well represented with five excellent tracks. "Days of Yore" harkens back to an age of thriving fisheries, while "Last of the Great Whales" laments the demise of the great beasts. "Go to Sea No More" describes a sailor's wish to live in his beloved land.

Their next three albums make up the remaining 12 tracks, the bulk of them going to the Juno Award-winning Gypsies & Lovers. Fantastic versions of "Raggle Taggle Gypsie," "Barrett's Privateers," "Rattlin' Bog" and "Let Me Fish Off Cape St. Mary's" with John McDermott were chosen to represent that album. An excellent cover of Donovan Leitch's "Catch the Wind" is also featured.

1996's Livin' on the Edge had a harsher edge to it. The song from which the title was taken, "Shamrock City," is rawer than other tracks, as is "Uncle Dan." The instrumental "The Two Ronnie's/ Broderick's Reel" incorporates the variety of instruments the group is master of and highlights their wonderful skills.

"Peter Street" and "Never Been There Before" are both comedic songs from Rollin' Home. The title track of that album is a song of homecoming for the extended traveler. It is one of the best pieces on the album.

Overall, this compilation is a great introduction to the albums of the Irish Descendants. Anyone not familiar with the group will enjoy being introduced to their fantastic talents, while those who know the group will probably find enough tracks they don't already own to make it a worthwhile purchase. The combination of quality musicianship and fantastic songs equals a collection you will return to over and over.

- Rambles
written by Jean Emma Price
published 30 July 2005