Pol MacAdaim,
If We Don't Help Them Now
(self-produced, 2002)

His voice is deceptively soft. But the words, written and sung by Belfast's Pol MacAdaim, are hard as steel.

If We Don't Help Them Now is a protest album in the truest tradition of issue-oriented folk music. The words have depth, they have meaning, they conjure images of injustice and fear in black-and-white pictures as stark and unsettling as the riot scene on the back of the CD jacket, as gritty as the scene of unapologetic slaughter inside the cover.

But the songs aren't focused solely on Northern Ireland, as might be assumed about most Belfast singer-songwriters. MacAdaim has taken a broader view, unflinchingly shining his light on troubles in his homeland and elsewhere.

The title track was spawned from MacAdaim's activism to support Turkish hunger strikers. "Bigots Scaring Children" could be from anywhere in the world where hard-line activists or governments fail fail to protect the innocent bystanders of their conflicts. "I Don't Know," with words by MacAdaim's brother Gary, tackles global issues of the environment and equality.

"The Well Below the Valley," deals with incest and is featured in the film The Magdelene Sisters (which deals with abuses -- mental, physical and sexual -- that have been swept under the rug by figures of authority within the Catholic Church). "The Rose of Armagh" spotlights the life and death of Belfast human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson, who was killed by a car bomb in March 1999.

MacAdaim sings gently, almost sadly, and his voice has the honey-smooth touch of Irish whiskey in its richness. But the CD, brief though it is, has more to it than just songs of protest; MacAdaim includes a few traditional sets that lighten the mood and demonstrate his deft hand with guitars, whistles, bodhran, synthesizer, bass and percussion. Guest musician Patrick Martin adds flair on the uilleann pipes.

The musicianship here is excellent, and even the spartan arrangements to some of the songs show MacAdaim's skill for matching music to words. I very much want to hear more from this talented individual!

The liner notes are disappointingly sparse -- rather, nonexistent -- and the CD suffers for lack. These deeply meaningful songs deserve to have the lyrics clearly spelled out and the backgrounds behind them cleary explained. Intrepid listeners can find some information on MacAdaim's website, but these weighty issues deserve more.

"I've always believed that we must learn from our past," MacAdaim writes on his website. "If we choose not to we will continue only to suffer the consequences of the past." If We Don't Help Them Now is a riveting history lesson that should get us all thinking.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 12 July 2003

[ visit the artist's website ]