Jeff Moore,
The Dove's Perch
(Fleagull, 2006)

Austin is not a place that comes to mind when one thinks of Irish folk music in America. Still, something must be happening there; this is the second Austin Irish album I've reviewed here in recent months. (The other was Karen Mal's Dark-Eyed Sailor.) In the liner notes guitarist and vocalist Jeff Moore reveals he was drawn to the music only a dozen years ago -- an item of information few if any listeners could have discerned on their own. On evidence of hearing alone, The Dove's Perch would lead just about any listener to the conclusion that Moore has been at this all of his life.

If there is anything Moore is not doing right here, I am happy to report that it's escaped my ear. When I pick up a recording -- especially if it's by an artist unfamiliar to me -- I look first to the songlist to determine if the artist or band has reached beyond the usual suspects. Moore easily passes that test. He has turned mostly to neglected songs and tunes of the sort that repeated performance has not driven into numbing exhaustion and excessive familiarity. Among the relative handful that I recognize is the magnificent "The Death of Queen Jane" (Child 170), and that one is a surprisingly rare choice of revival singers notwithstanding its strong melody and compelling narrative. Moore appends an instrumental coda, his fine composition "An Air for Henry" (King Henry VIII, husband of the title character Jane Seymour, who died in 1537 after giving birth), to the ballad.

He and his accompanists place the music in unbusy settings (usually no more than one or two other instruments), with Moore's gorgeous guitar work rightly at the forefront. While his dark-edged baritone perfectly suits the material, I wish that it had been applied to at least one wholly unaccompanied song. We hear it that way -- applied almost teasingly -- only in the opening verse to "P Stands for Paddy," and one yearns for more. Still, it would be foolish to complain about what happens to the song -- nothing but good things -- after Moore's guitar and Heather Gilmer's fiddle move in to carry it along.

Most of the material is traditional, and the rest is so firmly ensconced in tradition that you have to consult the notes to tell the difference. There's Andy Irvine's "Only a Miner," actually written around the chorus of an American folk song. Another stellar piece is the stirring working-class anthem "Song of the Hammers," composed by the noted Scots multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Brian McNeill, who contributes his fiddling to the present version.

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review by
Jerome Clark

16 June 2007

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