Anyone who’s read my recent pieces on Daoirí Farrell will realise I’ve eagerly been waiting for this new album and now it’s arrived, I have to say, I’m as pleased as Punch. In my interview with him back in August (read it here), Daoirí described True Born Irishman as a continuation of his first album, and sure, there are plenty of common elements, but the choice of songs, the intricacies and energy of the arrangements, the quality of the recording all go to make it so much more.
Daoirí’s re-emergence onto the Dublin scene after a spell at University in Limerick has been greeted enthusiastically by the likes of Donal Lunny (“one of the most important traditional singers to emerge in the last decade”) and Christy Moore (“always a treat to hear him sing”), so it’s no surprise that the vocals here are impeccable. During our interview, Daoirí had made it clear that unaccompanied singing was his first love but all ten tracks on True Born Irishman have some instrumental accompaniment. However, for two of them, The Blue Tar Road and My Love is a Well the accompaniment is simply a drone from James Mahon’s Uilleann pipes. The effect is dramatic. Having the continuous notes of the drone in the background serves to highlight the slides and grace notes that Daoirí so skilfully weaves into the melody, the combination raises Daoirí’s treatment of these songs to another level. Both songs are compositions from Liam Weldon, one of the now sadly departed Dublin singers that Daoirí credits as principal inspirations for his singing. Weldon occupies a particular place in Daoirí’s musical development as the subject of his MA thesis at Limerick, and the emotion he feels when singing Liam’s songs comes through forcefully in these recordings.
James, a past All-Ireland champion on both flute and Uilleann pipes, plays pipes on a couple of other tracks and his presence is a pointer to the quality of musicians that Daoirí was able to assemble for the album. Tony Byrne on guitar, Pat Daly on fiddle and Paddy Kiernan on banjo are three of the most in-demand Dublin-musicians and form the core of the band backing Daoirí and his bouzouki. To these regulars, you can add contributions to particular tracks from Michael McGoldrick on flute and low whistle, Alec Brown on cello, Brian Dwyer on piano and Eoin Kenny rather than James Mahon on Uilleann Pipes and low-whistle for The Unquiet Grave. Last but by no means least, Daoirí’s long-time friend Robbie Walsh with his bodhrán again provides the rhythmic heart of the arrangements just as he did on Daoirí’s debut album.
As you might expect from the album title, Daoirí’s choice of songs reflects the heritage, troubled history and cultural richness of his country. Three songs look at Ireland’s travellers, the source of so much traditional music (watch the Coppers and Brass documentary recently featured on Folk Radio UK). The album opens with Pat Rainey, Pat being a member of a famous musical traveller family. Written by Daoirí’s friend Fergus Russell it’s a jaunty song, not to be taken too seriously, painting the rosy, romantic picture of a free-spirited traveller easily getting his food, drink, a bit of spare cash and maybe a bit on the side as he sings and plays his way from town to town. All in marked contrast to the other two ‘traveller’ songs that focus on the frosty welcome that more often greets today’s travellers, camps being forcibly broken up amid accusations of bringing dirt, disease and fear to communities. The Blue Tar Road is Liam Weldon’s song about the traveller protest in the Dublin of 1959, lyrics such as those below giving a more honest picture of the travellers’ lot:
“Hunger, hardships and poverty are the traveller’s weary load, hunger, hardships and poverty on the blue tar road”
Sung with just the drone accompaniment, the lyrics’ message of resentment and hostility powers through. The lyrics of This Town Is Not Your Own carry that same message but in a far lighter musical setting with Paddy Kiernan’s banjo predominant and a rhythm appropriate to a horse drawn caravan. This lightness, while belying the message of the lyrics is perhaps suited to a song by Shay Healy, a songwriter rather more famous as the author of one of Ireland’s successful Eurovision songs.
Three songs take their inspiration from different periods of Ireland’s turbulent history. The most obvious is also the most modern, adapted from a poem by Bryan MacMahon, Valley of Knockanure, commemorates one of many atrocities committed by the Black and Tans during the wars of independence in the early 1920s. A quiet song with a slow bodhrán rhythm and simple bouzouki and guitar accompaniment that takes wings when James’ pipes lead it to its inevitable fatal ending. The Shady Woods of Truagh is a traditional song set around much older events, the Battle of Benburb in 1646. The battle was a rare success for the forces of Confederate Ireland against a combined Scottish and Anglo-Irish force, but the song takes a rather oblique look at the event telling it through the eyes of McKenna and his betrothed, Maureen. A couple at first separated and then reunited as he survives the battle. Daoirí tells the tale while behind him the bodhrán and Brian Dwyer’s piano start with somewhat doom-laden rhythms and chords, but by the end, the piano is up towards the right-hand end of the keyboard and joined by Michael McGoldrick’s flute to celebrate the wedding. Van Diemen’s Land, another traditional song, deals, as you might expect, with transportation, this time as a punishment for poaching. By no means a uniquely Irish element of the criminal justice system in those days, but the lyrics give a quintessentially Irish slant to the tale of woe. However, it is the instrumental arrangement that makes this one of the standout tracks. It builds from a first verse that simply pits Daoirí’s voice against Alec Brown’s cello to a positively orchestral finish with guitar, banjo, fiddle, piano and bodhrán all progressively joining.
Amidst all the songs with powerful lyrics, there’s one track in particular that allows Daoirí’s sense of humour to shine through. Fergie McCormack is an Irish song even though the hero of the title is a New Zealand rugby player. Its tale of ultimately flawed heroism had the crowd in stitches when he sang it at FolkEast, and I’m sure it’ll have the same effect when first heard on this album. Don’t read the lyrics before listening to the track; I’ll say no more.
After enjoying his first album so much (read the review here), there was never any doubt in my mind that Daoirí’s singing would make this second album a must. Even so, the developing maturity of his voice but also his sparing use of overdubs to add richness to the vocals has made listening to it even more of a pleasure. However, it is in the instrumental arrangements that the development of his music over the last seven years is most apparent. Credited as both performer and producer on this album, Daoirí Farrell is growing into a force to be reckoned with on the Irish music scene.
Daoirí will be launching ‘True Born Irishman’ in Whelan’s on the 25 of October 2016
Daoirí is touring across the UK in November. Visit here for details: daoiri.com/gigs
True Born Irishman is released 21 October 2016