So's Your Mom,
Common Ground
(self-produced, 2002)

So's Your Mom's long-awaited second independently produced CD, Common Ground, is a collection of 18 traditional and modern tunes, for the most part paying tribute to working-class folks, with a few love, love-and-drinking and love-and-death tunes thrown in for good measure. Even so, they seem to be less focused on Irish music than they have in the past, and more on traditional American music, showing their versatility as they move easily from traditional Irish styles to American old-timey rhythms, and in Brian Donnelly's case, moving from an Irish brogue to a country twang.

The band obviously worked hard at the arrangements on Common Ground, showing remarkable growth since their previous recording. Songs "Hiring Fair," Andy M. Stewart's "The Blackbird" and "Not the Reason I Left Mullingar" contain a delightful mix of instrumentation, featuring marvelous work by Vince Brennan on mandolin, and intricate viola and fiddle by Susan Bartley and Wendy Fuhr, respectively. The way the fiddle weaves around Donnelly's voice is a real treat.

There's only one original tune on this recording, "Good Friday," written by Bartley. Inspiration came from the mothers of Ireland pushing politicians towards the Good Friday Peace Accord. It's got a driving beat, one intended to push all listeners towards peace sooner rather than later. The words are included in the liner notes so you can learn the song and sing along.

The group takes on a number of a cappella pieces, in the "Chemical Worker," a fun, old, drinking song, "Let Your Back and Sides Go Bare" and "Widow of Reading," showing off rich harmonies. They also provide a selection of instrumentals in the hornpipe, "Staten Island" and the reel, "St. Anne's Reel." Both start off at a leisurely pace with one instrument, and then add an instrument at a time, building in intensity and increasing in speed.

The title of the CD is quite appropriate, since not only do the tunes find the common ground between Ireland and the United States, as in the Irish "Cole Not Dole" and the American "The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore," but also in the common ground of the musicians performing. They've all managed to grow together from individual musicians into a well-coordinated ensemble.

[ by Alanna Berger ]
Rambles: 5 October 2002