Seamus Kennedy,
Favorite Selections
(Gransha, 1994)

Seamus Kennedy is one of the mid-Atlantic region's most popular Celtic entertainers, appearing at numerous fests, pubs and concerts. His popularity is due to his agreeable voice and his repertoire of Irish and Scottish songs, which are frequently interspersed with his delightful wit and banter. Anyone interested in hearing Irish ballads won't go wrong listening to Seamus Kennedy.

In this 1994 CD Favorite Selections, Kennedy picked his favorite songs from three earlier recordings and released a new CD.

Kennedy's voice is certainly pleasant enough -- in fact, at times, too pleasant. Just as a world-class athlete in one sport would generally not excel in another sport, so too there are certain songs that should not be attempted by some singers.

An example of this, in my opinion, is the second track on this CD. I first heard "The Fields of Athenry" in Ireland when an elderly man sitting in a far corner of a packed pub sang this moving song a cappella to a suddenly silent pub. Ever since then I have loved this poignant song about a young father who is being sent to Australia's penal colony for stealing a bit of corn to feed his starving child. But Kennedy sings it with so little emotion and passion that it becomes just another gentle Irish ballad. For you Scots out there, the same criticism can be applied to Kennedy's rendition of "Flower of Scotland."

A minor point, to be sure, but the chorus of "Fields of Athenry" speaks of watching the "small, free birds fly." Kennedy's birds are "small, wee."

Kennedy apparently did not select most of the songs in this CD for their typical light-hearted Irish melodies. Many of the songs have themes of death and tragedy -- themes that have run through Irish history for centuries. There are no glasses of Guinness, no leprechauns and no lads and lassies dancing in the glens.

"The Newry Highwayman" tells of robberies and execution. "Belfast Town," where Kennedy was born, paints a stark picture of guns, corruption and squalor. "The Bold Fenian Men" is about courageous warriors who march through the "red gap of glory" to their graves. "Sound the Pibroch," like "Flower of Scotland," is all about Bonnie Prince Charlie and Culloden's "field of gore." "There Were Roses" portrays the ever-present murder of Catholics and Protestants in "this troubled Northern land."

There are, of course, a few lighter songs to break the mood including "Star of the County Down," "Bonnie Kellswater" and "My Lagan Love." Then there's a lovely rendition of "La Vie En Rose' for the Francophiles.

Kennedy's recordings and concerts are frequently marked by jokes and hilarity, but Favorite Selections is a serious and somber work -- it's not a laughing matter. One cannot listen to this recording without coming away with a deeper appreciation of "this troubled land."

[ by Bill Knapp ]
Rambles: 28 July 2001