Midnight Court,
Ring the Bell ... Run Like Hell
(Magnetic, 2001)

There is a mysterious message on Midnight Court's Ring the Bell ... Run Like Hell. Hidden on the back CD cover is a polite request that it be filed under Irish folk. This suggests the impossible notion that it could be mistaken for anything else.

From the first low notes of "As I Roved Out," it's clear what sort of music this is. The sad story of a very young woman betrayed by her married lover is told with a yearning voice-over. It shows the path for the album; long detailed stories with simple, memorable lyrics; elaborate jigs and hornpipes crafted for even more elaborate dancing. Any doubt about the origin of these tunes should be put to rest by the second track, "Welcoming Paddy Home."

The songs are traditional, but their origins are often still clear. The tart, almost irate "Salonika" speaks out against boys joining the army in World War I, but holds a lover's lament common to the civilians of all armies. It's well paired with "Outside Track," a wistful tune whose words were put down by poet Henry Lawson in the 1800s. Carefully chosen words make a parting sound like a death and provide a more sorrowful balance to the anger of those left behind in "Salonika." The grim feel of "As I Roved Out" is then picked back up by the downright scary "Caleb Myers," as a woman orders the ghost of a man who attacked her to leave her alone. There are small hints of musical traditions outside of Ireland spread across the album. They're especially noticeable in "Handsome Molly," where an almost country tune provides the perfect backdrop for this song of a jilted but mending lover.

There are three instrumental medleys spaced along Ring The Bell, one set each of jigs, reels and hornpipes. As fond as I am of lyrics, I would have been happy if the whole album had been devoted to these lively dancing tunes. Whatever you're doing when "Dancing Eyes/Goat in the Green/Finbar Dwyers" comes on, it will feel like you're dancing; however somber the setting you're in, the notes of The "Templehouse/The Maids of Castlebar/Paddy O'Brien's" will put you on your feet and force the steps out. The final "Reel and Hornpipe/The Volunteer/Huckleberry Hornpipe" combines Irish instrumentals with a hornpipe by an American bluegrass artist, and the two complement each other like a fiddle and a dance floor.

I realize that not every store clerk who stocks Ring the Bell ... Run Like Hell is going to listen to it. That's their loss. This is traditional music at its best, made lively and growing by a band that clearly loves it. Midnight Court does its part to keep the tradition alive, including not just lyrics but sheet music for all the songs, reels, jigs and hornpipes on the album. For those not quite ambitious or musically literate enough to put on their own show, Midnight Court has recorded a fine one.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 1 March 2003