Dessie O'Halloran,
The Pound Road
(Daisy, 2001)

He is an acquired taste like caviar, coddle, drisheen or Ronnie Drew. Reviewers in particular seem to love him or hate him. I believe in listening without prejudice and, to be honest, he won me over.

I first heard Dessie O'Halloran in a duet with Eleanor Shanley earlier this year and later singing with Sharon Shannon on a compilation disc. He had me intrigued. He is not Pavarotti or the folk equivalent, but he sings with a real love of the songs and a depth of feeling that could be beneficially transplanted to many of our superstars of pop.

His 2001 CD The Pound Road contains 13 songs that showcase a man and a wide array of songs.

He opens with a song seldom heard nowadays and he is worth his salt simply for resurrecting songs that many seem to think are beneath them. The track is "Courtin' in the Kitchen," a song that will be familiar to many older readers. He follows this with a lovely version of "I'll Fly Away," a song that was sort of lost, too, until the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou brought it back.

Other well-known tracks from earlier times that are reprised here include "Come Down the Mountain Katie Daly," "Patsy Fagan" and "The Soldier's Farewell." These are excellent songs that have been forgotten because of overexposure a half-century ago. Another old song (but new to me) was "Eileen McMahon." It is a beautiful track and is worth the price of the album just to hear it.

It was fascinating to listen to a track called "The Boys from the County Mayo." It is a good song but the tune haunted me until, after a few hearings, I recognized the air as "The Kilmore Fishermen."

Dessie is also a fiddle player and he shows his pedigree on a few instrumentals, including "Mairtin Byrne's Waltz" and "Nic's Tune."

Reading the liner notes, you begin to realize why despite the peculiar vocals, this is a musical gem. His influences range from Nic Jones through Fairport Convention and the canon of popular tunes of the mid-1900s to bluegrass. Add to this the fact that fiddle accompaniment features Liz and Yvonne Keane, accordion playing by Sharon Shannon, vocal duets and backing by such stars as Eleanor Shanley and Kathy Jordan, and production by Donal Lunny.

They must hear something in the voice and I believe it is the soul of music they find. The album has that magical sound of an informal session that cannot be planned. It happens when you combine excellent songs, top-class musicians and a singer who lives the songs.

Remember, many people consider Shane McGowan a bad singer -- but he has presence, and so does Dessie O'Halloran.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 15 January 2005