Ben Sands,
Roots & Branches
(Spring, 1998)

During the past few decades many people equated Northern Ireland with sadness and violence. Sadly, it was true for far too long, but that land was also producing some beautiful and heartfelt music and songs. One of the greatest exponents of the music is Ben Sands. When you listen closely to Sands, especially to his personal songs, you hear how the ordinary people loved the land, the people and the traditions even in the midst of so much trouble.

"Good to be Home" is a lovely song about the home parish and could be sung by anyone who loves his or her "home place." Another song that all too many of us could sing is "Back on the Diet on Monday." Go on, admit it, you have found "the zippers went ping and even the tie was too tight."

From his own work he slides seamlessly into traditional songs, although I must take issue on his credit of "The Verdant Braes of Screen" to the tradition. It is from the pen of P.J. McColl, who also wrote the anthem of 1798, "Boolavogue." The Screen in the song is my home parish here in the sunny southeast of Ireland.

On this album Sands brings us works by other writers. His beautiful rendition of the 1960s Joe South hit, "Games People Play," is well worth seeking out. He also brings us the work of Kate Wolf on the fabulous track "Green Eyes."

He brings us the sometimes overly familiar, but listen to his version of "The Whistling Gypsy Rover" and you will want him to do a CD of covers of the "done to death come-all-ye's" of Ireland.

Another giant of the folk tradition is represented here too in the person of Stan Rogers on the epic story track of "First Christmas Away From Home." The comic song and tongue-twister "Going to Morrow" has to be heard to be believed, understood and enjoyed. Basically it plays on the words and confusion of a person wanting a ticket to a place called Morrow.

When I heard Tim O'Brien's song "Carry This Torch" sung by Sean Keane, I thought I had heard the definitive recording. Now hearing Sands, I rejoice that there can be more than one definitive version.

You may have guessed that I liked this album.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 2 October 2004

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