Men of Worth,
Live in Folsom
(Mahog Music, 1997)

Men of Worth's Live in Folsom is not to be confused with anything Johnny Cash has put out over the years. For anyone who's ever enjoyed a good pub or ren faire singalong, this duo of Donnie Macdonald and Jimmy Keigher will likely evoke those same feelings, if not memories.

Sticking mainly to traditional, familiar songs, they keep it simple, using only guitar, mandolin, accordion and bodhran on various pieces. They open with the comfortable, freewheeling "Paddy Lay Back," and effectively capture the roguish sailor charm of the lyrics, reaching a triumphant crechendo with the chorus "For we're bound for Valparaiso 'round the horn."

Following in the seafaring vein, they also take a turn on "The Mermaid," a popular, spirited song of a ship's impending doom in a storm. Prefaced by a mermaid joke involving a shipwrecked sailor and golf, this is naturally one of the showpieces of the album. A recurring singalong at many renaissance festivals -- notably Scarborough Faire in Waxahachie, Texas -- the simple guitar and mandolin arrangement here makes it familiar and fresh at the same time. "Jack Hawke's Adventures" also holds a strong roguish appeal, chronicling the misadventures of the title character who merely wishes to spend time with "A bonnie wee lass." Its irresistable chorus of "Tum-a-hi tum-do, a-hi tum-day" is good, nonsensical fun. "Song of the Dawn" is a bit more somber, but moves on at a brisk clip with a English/Gaelic chorus of "O shout it high/It's a free man's cry/Sean Eirean nan Geadheal go deo."

Men of Worth also turn in solid performances on slower tunes such as "Destination Donegal" and "Leave Her, Johnny," conveying the proper degree of sadness in the music. Of their slow selections, perhaps the most entertaining is an original work, "The Clan-Tent Cavaliers." A hilarious case of biting the hand that feeds them, Men of Worth lampoon the whole Highland Games circuit in profoundly serious tones: "An army of great highlanders converging on the moor/While waiting for the doughnut stand to open up its door." It does go on for maybe a verse or two too long, but its worth it for gems like "Here's a sprig of our family plant/But do take care -- it stings" and "We'll shout for you our battle cry/Though we're not sure what it means."

Not flashy, and not pretentious, Men of Worth achieve exactly what they set out to accomplish with Live in Folsom, namely, capture the spirit and atmosphere of a live show on disk. It's a great primer for anyone looking to familiarize themselves with some of the classics of traditional music.

[ by Jayme Lynn Blaschke ]