Geraldine MacGowan & Friends,
(Magnetic Music, 1999)

Geraldine MacGowan is a veteran of the Irish folk scene since her days with Oisin. This new album is said to take the listener on a musical tour of Irish history and as such it combines old and new.

This is borne out from track 1, "Blackwater Side," which tells that perennial story of love and loss. This is a new arrangement of a traditional song. MacGowan does not confine herself to the Irish songbook, however, and one of the sweetest pieces here is from the pen of that legend of the folk scene, Sandy Denny. "Listen, Listen" is an excellent track that is very well performed. It has some beautiful phrasing, as in "watching the boy, watching the day, thinking how he came to be."

"Galway" takes its lyrics from a poem by Oliver St John Gogarty, a contemporary of James Joyce. It is almost a love song for a city. If the city of the tribes ever needs an anthem this could be it, and Geraldine's version is the top. I love Galway, our Irish city of arts, and listening to this simple rendition can transport me back to that west coast locale.

MacGowan combines a number of old songs in her track "Demon Lover." Isn't amazing how many Irish and international folk songs feature such persons? The lovely clear voice enhances this tune so that we hear and understand every word. The musical backing is fascinating.

Sandy Denny pops up again with the intriguing "One Way Donkey Ride." This is new to me but I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed every line from "in your splendor and jewels swaying me in both directions" to "searching for trees in the forest." I would choose this as my favourite track of the CD but with so much great music the choice is ever changing. It is wonderfully spiritual and could be a prayer as it asks God to bless the poor ones.

"January Snows" is a traditional song that questions the stifling morality that once ruled Ireland -- some believe it still does and who knows, maybe they are right? "How cruel was my father he barred the door to me?" MacGowan gives a heartfelt rendition of a very sad song that must be a showstopper in live performance if ever an audience gave it a fair listen. This is what folk music means, telling it as it is. "The fairer that a young man speaks, oh the falser is his heart."

The combination of "Dan Malone" with "Saltwater March" is inspired. The song is written by Sean McCarthy, another Kerry word wizard whose excellent works are often neglected because they were most popular back in folk-boom days when Aran sweaters and the like made the genre so "uncool." MacGowan is doing a great service in bringing these gems to a new generation.

This is the first collection of work by Geraldine MacGowan that I have listened to and I am very impressed. Along with the vocal pieces there are a few jigs and reels that are superbly played. Well done to Magnetic Music, based in County Clare, for bringing these songs to a world audience.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 15 February 2003