Frank Quinn,
If You Are Irish
(Arhoolie, 1997)

My friend Julie gave me this CD because it had a couple songs about a goat. My own band, Fire in the Glen, was seeking a new goat song to replace the popular but oft-performed "Paddy McGinty's Goat," and Julie was trying to help. Since her intentions were pure, I suppose I should forgive her.

No, that's not fair to either Julie or Frank Quinn, the Irish singer and musician whose album this is. True, the recording quality is poor. Yes, his reedy voice makes me wince. But considered within the proper context, this album is a landmark.

Quinn, born in 1893 on a small farm in County Longford, Ireland, emigrated to the U.S. at age 10. Later a New York City policeman, he began entertaining the city's homesick Irish population with his music, and he became a popular recording artist and performer at various social events. Now some of those original recordings have been restored and released for everyone's enjoyment.

OK, maybe "enjoyment" is too strong a word. Quinn's voice does still make me wince. His fiddle isn't always in perfect tune, and sometimes it's downright sour. But he attacks his fiddle and accordion with gusto, and he sings and lilts with equal fervor. Listening to these old tunes and imagining those gatherings of Irish immigrants in Prohibition-era New York City makes me smile. I can almost imagine sitting in a crowded room, filled with smoke and thick brogues, with Quinn and others banging away at their music in the corner.

And some tracks really do stand out, such as "Going to the Fair," a vocal duet with Nan Fitzpatrick in 1930, and "Donovan's Reel," a fiddle duet with Joe Maguire in 1927, which apparently accompanied some spirited dancing. The occasional background voices in the recording are an atmospheric bonus.

After listening to Frank Quinn for a spell, I even stopped wincing. I was caught up instead in a moment of time, when he and his Irish friends recaptured a bit of home through his music.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

Buy it from