This for me is the goose–bump album of 2014. Mind you I had thrill of hearing a pre–release download just before Christmas, and what a welcome present it was.
Why the goose bumps? Liam Clancy is the answer. Back in the winter of 1995/96 I spent four months singing with Liam on the recording of a couple of his Helvic label albums.
Dónal was on both of them, but as the recording process is fragmentary we never actually got it together as a band until we appeared on the Late Late Show with Gay Byrne.
The Songs of a Roving Blade album was recorded in the very same setting of the family studio in An Rinn (Ring in English), this album being dedicated to the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem and rightly so.
Dónal explains in the album notes that after his father died, there was a silence in the house but the ghosts of the songs were with him. Although until then he’d been happier to play the guitar, the songs had to be sung.
Sing them he does on this album. Fans of the Clancy’s will recognise almost every one of them, from Rosin The Bow, The Broom of the Cowdenknowes, Crúíscín Lán, Heave Away My Johnny, The Sean Bhan Bhoct and more. Mrs McGrath is an old family version, with a melody and chorus that were both new to me.
The goose bumps hit when Dónal sings. There are genetics at work here, he has the same vocal qualities as his father, that uncanny ability with timing, the clarity of diction, subtle storytelling, unhurried, unsullied singing. Is it nature or nurture? It has to be both of course.
So is this a tribute album? Yes and No. Dónal has been around the block enough times now to have his own career, with a long stint in Danú and collaborations with a huge number of players and singers, he doesn’t have to rest on the family credentials. But, this is different, these are the family jewels, and why wouldn’t he want the world to share them again?
His guitar playing is of course of the highest quality, delicate finger picking on Sally Brown, a punchy chop on Roddy McCorley. The backing band he has put together for the album is top drawer too. It includes his wife Mary Rafferty on box and whistle, Martin Murray on mandolin, banjo and fiddle, Seán Ó Fearghail adds fiddle on The Limerick Rake. He is joined by Danú band mates Benny McCarthy on box and Donnchadh Gough on bodhrán. David Power guests on uilleann pipes, with Karan Casey on vocals and my old sparring partner from ‘96 Pat Sheridan on backing vocals on two shanties.
This might be called Songs Of a Roving Blade, but Dónal hasn’t strayed that far from his roots and the world has another Clancy to carry the torch for folk songs. I can see Dónal roving this album around the world in 2014, a great vintage already, and it has only just been bottled!
Dónal Clancy, Songs of a Roving Blade. Own label, 2014
Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Dónal Clancy; (3)-(4) Liam Clancy (unknown/website).