Seamus Kennedy,
Bar Rooms and Ballads
(Gransha, 1984)

A fan of Irish sing-along songs can't go wrong with a Seamus Kennedy CD. Bar Rooms and Ballads is no exception, featuring a long program of winning tracks.

Kennedy keeps his shows varied, mixing humorous tracks with more serious songs, throwing in a few jokes (including some real groaners!) for good measure. The album was recorded live -- although the liner notes don't tell us where or when, if at one show or many -- so you get plenty of audience reaction to Kennedy's antics.

The album begins with the traditional tongue-twister "Mary Mac," then finds a variation on a well-known theme with the modernized "Yuppiddee-Doo-Dah." Kennedy takes a somber look at a failing industry in "Belfast Mills," then zips into "The Three Minute Hamlet" for some hilarious Shakespearean shenanigans. "Scotland the Brave" is followed by "Kilkelly," a heart-breaking song based on a series of letters to from a father in Ireland to his son in America over the course of 32 years. This song by Peter Jones is one of the most touching pieces I've heard, and Kennedy gives it true emotion.

"Mom's Lullaby" is an amusing song about the tribulations of motherhood. A few familiar numbers -- David Mallett's "The Garden Song," Sidney Carter's "Lord of the Dance" and Bill Staines' "A Place in the Choir" -- lead into Robbie O'Connell's "If Wishes Were Horses" and Andy Stewart's "The Scottish Soldier." "Christmas in the Trenches" by John McCutcheon tells the true story of an impromptu peace between British and German soldiers. The album ends with a bit of Western swing in "How the Yodel was Born."

I own several of Kennedy's albums, and he rarely disappoints. Sure, no recording can capture the fun of Kennedy's live performances, but Bar Rooms and Ballads comes close.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 3 November 2001

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