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CRAN 5: Dally and Stray

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CRAN’s 5th album – a mere 12 years since the release of Music from the Edge of the World, musical Jedi CRAN strode fearlessly into the studio this spring of 2014. They stumbled back out a fortnight later, exhausted and bleary–eyed but content, grasping the master CD of Dally and Stray – the 5th in their series of white–knuckle musical adventures which began in 1993 with the cult CD The Crooked Stair.

  • Ronan Browne – pipes, flutes, whistles, vocals
  • Sean Corcoran – vocals, mandocello
  • Desi Wilkinson – flutes, whistles vocals

NOTE:  this CD is in a digipac so we don’t have to worry about jewel cases – YAY…!!!

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Description




The Next Market Day (track 1)

Black Rose Records BRRCD005; 49 minutes; 2014

On this outing, CRAN’s adventure spoils include such gems as northern songs Next Market Day, The Forger’s Farewell & Tá Mé ‘Mo Shuí, a clapping song from the Scottish waulking song tradition O Cò Bheir Mi Leam and interestingly, the first modern–day recordings of two songs collected by Patrick Lynch and Edward Bunting around 1800: Tú Fhéin is Mé Fhéin & Giolla na Scríob which both display an open non–salacious attitude to sexual matters uncommon even now in our so–called modern liberal society!  As ever with CRAN, the melodic material on this CD is no less interesting – haunting slow airs Úna Bhán & Barbara Allen, ancient marches Hunt the Squirrel & Drocketty’s, perky single jigs Ask my Father & Pat Ward’s, the rousing Knockaboul single reel and pipes ‘piece’ The Humours of Glin along with electrifying jigs and reels. As with their previous 4 CD’s, Dally and Stray displays copious amounts of the 3 W’s: Warmth, Wit and Wonder…!

  1. Song: Early, Early 
  2. Song: Seán Bán 
  3. Reels: Toss the Feathers, The Gosson that Beat His Father 
  4. Song: Táimse ‘n Arrears 
  5. Reels: The Humours of Castlefinn, The Maid of Mount Kisco, The Long Note 
  6. Song: Aililú Na Gamhna 
  7. Jigs: Liz Kelly’s, The Horse Shoe, The Blarney Pilgrim 
  8. Song: The Banks Of The Bann 
  9. Song: Whistling Thief 
  10. Reels: The Old Monaghan Twig, Bean a’ Ti ar Lar 
  11. Song: Óró Mhíle Ghrá 
  12. Song: Hé Mantú 
  13. Song: Fear a’ Bháta 
  14. Hornpipe: Johnny Cope

 

When you sit down to listen to CRAN’s new CD, Dally and Stray, be prepared to be amazed, informed and very satisfied indeed. This is one of the most exciting recordings I’ve heard in a long time. The first few tracks of songs and tunes sort of draw you gently in and then gradually you begin to take notice of some strange and new things that intrigue and play on your mind for a long time afterwards. But I’ll come to all that shortly.

When I spoke with CRAN’s piper Ronan Browne, he was anxious right from the start to tell me about a particularly interesting feature of their new recording: “We are doing something new with this CD; we are going online with the sleevenotes, so that the CD is nice and small and easy to stick in the post. The notes are on line.” So I checked it right away on the computer and there they were, the song words and notes and an invite to engage with the group with any comments and observations one might wish to share. Very nice, too, I thought, and practical. But then I thought, maybe there are some people who might also like to have the notes with the CD itself, because this is such a special recording, perhaps some time in the future that might happen.

In his chat with me, wasn’t Ronan on the ball when he included the postage info? He also mentioned that he and the other two members of CRAN, Seán Corcoran and Desi Wilkinson, are not a fulltime group but like to get together from time to time, more or less for the felicity of the experience. “We enjoy making music together and that’s what is important to us.”

And that joy and pleasure of making music comes through in Dally and Stray, CRAN’s 5th album, which they describe as “the latest episode of their white-knuckle ride through the lush terrain of the Irish and Scottish music tradition”. White-knuckled? Well, maybe, but there’s absolutely nothing scary or tension inducing in this album; but it is hugely stimulating in fact, because in CRAN’s inimitable arrangements we are taken through a pleasing variety of music, song and dance by three masters of the art, leaving us satisfied and happy right up to the dying notes of the last track. And the memory lingers on.

The title of the CD, Dally and Stray, is a quote from the first song, The Next Market Day, in which a young girl going to sell home-made linen at the market in the town of Comber in County Down meets a young man playing the fiddle along the way which causes her to ‘dally and stray’. By coincidence, a few days before I spoke with Ronan that very song was sung by a dear friend of mine in my house where we were celebrating my birthday, and she called it by the name by which I’ve always known it, A Maid Going to Comber.

Seán Corcoran is the lead singer and plays the mandocello, but Desi and Ronan provide vocal harmonies throughout and very ably too, while at the same time supplying instrumental flute and pipes accompaniments that are always apt and often haunting. Speaking of which, a particularly satisfying feature of this album are the informative and background notes provided with each song. Now, as I said, all three of the group CRAN are masters and scholars of Irish music and each has contributed to the information supplied. Of special satisfaction is their choice of songs in Gaelic – Irish and Scots – and while there is pleasure in reading the words in their original form, Seán has done a masteful job in translating all of them into English – not a literal translation, but a skillfully crafted wording that conveys the full sense and meaning of the original Gaelic.

This is especially evident in the song Tú Féin/Just You and Me, which when it started to play made me sit up and pay added attention. Patrick Lynch, who was featured in Seán’s memorable 2009 TG4 series Na Bailitheoirí Ceoil/ The Music Gatherers, collected it in Mayo in 1802. Incidentally, Ronan was also featured in that series, playing the music of the specially reconstructed arrangements by Sean and himself of many of the forgotten songs collected over the years. As an illustration of the wonderfully useful notes to the songs on line, it’s worth quoting in full what Seán tells us about this song Lynch noted down from the singing of Nancy McLoughlin at John Gavan’s tavern, Drummin, near Westport, Co. Mayo.

“Lynch, from Loughinisland, County Down had walked all the way from Drogheda on the East coast to Mayo on the West, finding singers and writing down their Irish-language songs texts for the Belfast music-collector, Edward Bunting, who was to follow on and write down the tunes. Lynch’s work provides the first evidence we have of what ordinary Irish people were actually singing at the time. Many of the songs sung by women (often with their husbands present) had a very open and non-salacious attitude to sexual matters (in fact, in this song the young girl says, ‘I am NOT ashamed!’).” The young woman tells her young man:

My mammy and daddy in bed they are rolling
They hug and they kiss, O they kiss and they hug
‘Tis well for them O but I am downhearted
As I lie here alone on my bed of soft down, my bed of soft down.

And then as if to make very clear the state she is in, she adds:

I sigh and I sob and with lust I am burning
And I’m not ashamed, and I’m not ashamed
The night’s just beginning so start up your engine
O just you and me, O just you and me, O just you and me.

So perhaps the rabelaisian ribaldry of Brian Merriman’s 1780s poem, The Midnight Court, was in fact an accurate account of just how lusty and vigorous women were, prior to the onset of later stuffy Victorian prudishness:

Alas, women will have to make the plays
By the time the men are disposed to wed
They’re no longer worth our while to bed
And it’ll be no fun to lie below
Those old men who are so weak and slow.

Then, as I was getting used to the startling frankness of the young couple in Tú Féin/Just You and Me describing their love-play, along comes another track that is even more explicit and free. Track 9 is Giolla na Scríob/The Rakish Young Lad who is scolded by the young woman:

O young girl I rolled on the floor with
And tossed up your jacket and bright gown
O, I can cure every woe of your heart
With my eager wee lad in the darkness!

And, of course, that ‘wee lad’ is a ‘translation’ of Giolla na Scríob in that verse, Seán’s mischievous ‘take’ on things!

I must mention Desi and Ronan’s performance of the song and air, The Forger’s Farewell and Úna Bhán. But rather than going into detail here, I want to leave the reader to discover why it is referred to in the notes as ‘an extraordinary song’ and to anticipate the pleasure of listening to the exquisite treatment Ronan gives to the air Úna Bhán on the uilleann pipes.

Finally, Sean mentioned in the notes that sadly Patrick Lynch’s collection of songs remains to be published. However, by including just two of his songs in this CD, CRAN are letting us know what gems we have missed, and perhaps are leaving us with the intriguing possibility that they may well provide us with more of the same at some later date!

This review by Aidan O’Hara was originally written for Irish Music Magazine

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