Ted McCormac,
Rough & Ready
(self-produced, 1997)

Rough & Ready was an afterthought, an impulse purchase in the small, friendly Traditional Music Shop in Doolin. Doolin, I should note, is one of my favorite places in Ireland (and therefore, the world), and I like to support the shopkeepers who help keep music there alive. (On the same trip, I was looking for the latest disc from fiddler Mary Custy; since it was out of stock, one of the owners called Custy and asked her if she'd drive 90 minutes or so out of her way that evening to bring me a copy. It's that kind of a place.)

The disc is an obvious low-budget job, a labor of love for singer Ted McCormac and a handful of musical friends. The subtitle, "Ballads and Traditional Music from Doolin, Co. Clare," is what caught my eye and sent me home with the disc.

McCormac doesn't want you to know much about himself or his music. At least, the liner notes are sparse (the inner pages are blank, for Pete's sake!) and the minimal text on the outside provides no details beyond the identities of his guest musicians: Eoin O'Neill (bouzouki), Gerry Griffin (guitar), Kevin Griffin (banjo, mandolin, guitar), Mary Custy (fiddle), Pauline Brody (whistle, banjo), Peadar Reilly (whistle) and Stewart Cowell (guitar, keyboard, bass). They're not playing all at once, mind you; McCormac's one bout of verbosity explains the music was recorded "in the North Clare region over a period of years with the help of musicians, most of whom live in this region, and have provided me with great musical memories." McCormac sings and plays bass; the names of the backing vocalists ("my friends in Dublin") aren't listed. Neither are several of the tunes, which appear on the disc as simply "jigs" or "reels." Heck, there's not even any indication when the disc was released! (A quick note to the Traditional Music Shop supplied that information.)

All right, let's work in the dark and just describe the sound. McCormac has the sort of gruff voice you'll find lurking in a dimly lit pub, ready to give up a song at the drop of a hat (or a pint of the black). The tunes are lively, and the songs are the sort of working-man's ballads you'd expect ("Joe Hill," "Working on the Railway," "The Miner's Life") mixed with the occasional love song ("Snowy Breasted Pearl," "Dainty Davy") and a mournful maritimes song ("Last of the Great Whales"). I have no idea what "The Rose," popularized by Bette Midler, is doing here; I recommend just skipping that track and saying no more about it. (Just because the Dubliners did it is no excuse.)

Rough & Ready isn't taking a place among my favorite Irish CDs, but I like it as a sort of "comfort food," the sort of disc it's nice to slip into the stereo when I want to relax and imagine I'm back in Doolin, listening to the locals sing.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 22 October 2002