The Irish Descendants,
Gypsies & Lovers
(Warner, 1994)

Back in the mid-1990s, I began exploring the wide world of Canadian Celtic music. One of the first bands recommended to me by my dear friend Sara was the Irish Descendants, a powerhouse group from Newfoundland. It opened a new horizon to my musical experience -- and, I'm happy to say, 20 years later it still holds up.

Oh my, did I say 20 years? It has been a long time.

Gypsies & Lovers opens with what is still probably the best version of "Raggle Taggle Gypsy" I've ever heard. The vocal harmonies on this a cappella version of Stan Rogers' "Barrett's Privateers" are sublime; this is a definitive version of the classic song. The "Merry Blacksmith" set demonstrates the band's abilities with an instrumental blast; they sound great throughout.

The band at the time of this recording was D'Arcy Broderick on vocals, fiddle, banjo, bouzouki and guitar, Con O'Brien on vocals and guitar, Ronnie Power on guitar, vocals, tin whistle and bouzouki, Larry Martin on bass and vocals, Gerard Broderick on percussion, and Kathy Phippard on keyboards, flute and vocals. (Phippard's flute riffs, though subtle, really add something to "Raggle Taggle Gypsy.")

"Let Me Fish Off Cape St. Mary's" is a poignant song, a vocal spotlight that typifies the love of home so common in Atlantic Canada. And then there's "Rattlin' Bog" -- an expansive, ever-accellerating rendition that sets a benchmark for all future performances of it. An instrumental track beginning with a mournful "My Lagan Love" before kicking into high gear on "Drowsy Maggie/Dionne Reel" is even better than the last tune set. "A Walk in the Irish Rain" is an upbeat and romantic song deftly handled; "Lovers" closes the album with a lovely duet between O'Brien and Phippard.

A quick web search shows that the Irish Descendants are still performing two decades on -- although the band lineup has changed drastically over the years, with the powerfully voiced O'Brien the only remaining member from those days of Gypsies & Lovers.

music review by
Tom Knapp

12 April 2014

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