various artists,
Lark in the Morning:
Folk Songs & Dances
from the Irish Countryside

(Tradition, 1955;
Empire Musicwerks, 2006)

This is a chronicle of folk music. It is both a historical document and a lovely collection of songs and tunes that will delight, enlighten and amaze.

If you read the story of Irish folk music and its resurgence in the 1960s, this is the original soundtrack to that tale that has become almost legendary. The American collector Diane Hamilton recorded this archive of greatness in the winter of 1955. Her name should be up there with Lloyd, Lomax and the other pioneers of resurrecting our folk music. Some of us may be familiar with the story of Liam Clancy lugging the old tape machine, meeting the shy Tommy Makem and the later trip to America that led to the modern phenomenon that is Celtic folk.

Originally released in 1955, the CD is remastered and back on the shelves in this new package from Empire Musicwerks. The 22 tracks on offer here are seminal recordings made with just the pure sweet (sometimes not too sweet) voices of the people who preserved the music, not for profit, fame or fortune but purely for love.

Tommy Makem gives a rendition of his showstopping "The Cobbler" that sounds if anything more mature sounding than later, more famous versions. Paddy Tunney brings us some songs that made loads of money for later performers. Listen to the unadorned "Lark in the Morning," "Rockin' the Cradle" and others. Liam Clancy also sounds older than his years on "Whiskey You're the Devil."

The matriarch of music, Sarah Makem, is also featured on the beautiful "In the Month of January," and she teams up with Tommy for "The Little Beggerman." What a strong and wonderful voice the lady had! Thomas Baynes' version of "Barbara Ellen" is different from the many more well-known ones and is well worth a listen.

Some tracks are very short; there is little or no ornamentation on the songs or tunes.

You can listen to this album as any other collection of folk songs and music, oblivious to the underlying history. Knowing that you are listening to history will, however, give that extra frisson to the lover of folk music. It has a curiously accomplished sound, much more so than many historic recordings of the folk genre.

This album must grace the shelf of anyone who calls themselves fans of Celtic folk. It is a rich motherlode of songs for aspiring artistes, a vein that has been tapped in the past but would welcome another bit of prospecting. It also is the first album featuring Makem and Clancy, even if they do not duet.

by Nicky Rossiter
7 October 2006

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