Dónal Clancy is the son of Liam Clancy, and comes highly recommended by the likes of Archie Fisher and Martin Simpson. His forthcoming album On The Lonesome Plain has already garnered praise from such publications as fROOTS both for his singing and for his Celtic-styled guitar. Deservedly so. His singing is unassuming but engaging, and entirely suited to his material, which to some extent reflects his focus on preserving the family repertoire but with an emphasis on the guitar that I don’t remember from the work of the Clancy Brothers or Clancy & Makem. That said, his guitar work shows abundant technique but technique never overshadows the integrity of the tune, or the vocal, or the lyrics. Nor does the familiarity of some of the songs compromise the effectiveness of the set: songs like these don’t date, at any rate when they’re this well performed.
Aside from track four, the performances here feature Dónal on a variety of acoustic guitars, discreetly augmented in places by a second guitar part using a Bourgeois OM through a Baggs M1 pickup. (Which sounds great: I think I may have to augment my own collection of pickups and transducers with an M1!). On tracks 4 and 12 he also adds a Kala Fretless U-Bass.
- ‘The Lowlands of Holland’ uses a fairly well-known tune, but the words are quite specifically Irish in some of the lines and closer to the full story than some better-known versions.
- The second track consists of an instrumental version of the Irish emigration ballad ‘The Green Fields of Canada’ followed by Dónal’s own tune ‘Máirseáil na Conrach’ (which according to Google Translate means March of the Coral, but I’ve had to use GT too often to trust it completely!). Beautiful guitar work.
- ‘Drill, Ye Tarriers’ was much heard in folk clubs in the ’60s and ’70s, perhaps as a result of exposure to versions by the Weavers, Chad Mitchell Trio and such. This is rather an effective version of a song from the late 19th century that his father Liam also performed with Tommy Makem, and a salutary reminder that even a song so well-known is capable of revealing new depths (and even a last verse I don’t remember hearing before).
- I remember Archie Fisher’s ‘Open the Door Softly’ (a traditional song with some added words) from his 1968 album, and it’s a hard act to follow. But this version is very effective, and I love the additional flute and whistle from Ciarán Somers and David Power respectively. I don’t hate their vocal harmonies, either.
- ‘The Honorable Thomas Burke’ is Dónal’s classic arrangement of a piece by the harpist Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738).
- Next comes a sprightly version of ‘The Waterford Waltz’: a fine version of a fine tune, benefiting from some unobtrusive overdubbed guitar.
- ‘Reynardine’ is a song that has haunted me for decades. Who is Reynardine? An outlaw, a Bluebeard, a werefox? While the song is sometimes heard put to a fairly bouncy major tune, Dónal uses the haunting, more modal melody as recorded by so many of the big hitters in the folk community, and the words as (more or less) published by A.L. Lloyd. This version is straightforward, letting the understated mystery of the lyric speak for itself, but by no means simplistic: there’ve been many fine versions over the years, but this one more than holds its own.
- The generically titled ‘Fling’ seems familiar to me, but I can’t recall a specific name for it. Anyway, more fine guitar work.
- ‘Blackwater Side’ is a song that has attracted some classic performances in the past, but this is well worth hearing in its own right.
- ‘Whiskey, You’re the Divil’ is another song you may have heard in folk clubs and sessions, but probably not played as well.
- ‘Miss McDermott’ is a well-known piece also credited to O’Carolan, benefiting from a second guitar part that may remind you of some of John Renbourn’s recordings around the end of the ’70s. Well, it does me.
- Dónal’s own song ‘Strike for Victory’ commemorates the 1916 Easter Rising “and is based on the 1916 Proclamation of Independence.” A rousing tune, beautifully played.
- ‘Idir Áird Mhór is Eochaill’ (Between Ardmore and Youghal) is an air from County Waterford (I think) which Dónal plays here as an instrumental.
There’s something timeless about this set. Dónal tells us that at the time he put it together, he’d been listening to some classic records by the like of “Anne Briggs, Martin Carthy, Shirley Collins and Davey Graham“, and it fits well with the work of that generation of musicians, but also with a long line of Irish musicians, especially players of fretted instruments. I expect to continue to listen to it long after this review is completed, and if he ever records a set of O’Carolan pieces, I’ll be at the front of the queue.
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Artist’s website: www.donalclancy.com/
‘Drill Ye Tarriers’ – live: