The CD This Day Too: Music From Irish America is very much what it says on the tin. It’s a collection of tunes and songs with a pronounced Irish accent, performed and in some cases written by musician and poet Terence Winch, his brother Jesse, and his son Michael, aided by a dozen other musicians who mostly hail from Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C.
Regarding the performer credits below, I should explain that I wasn’t familiar with the use of the term ‘box’ to describe what appears to be a button accordion: my guess is that it derives from the use in Ireland of the term ‘an bosca’ (box) for a ‘one-row’ melodeon, though photographs on the CD cover show him with a two-row instrument, and the notes to ‘Cahercrea/The Ring Finger’ and ‘The Homes Of Donegal’ both mention a D/C# box’, which I’d guess to be a ‘semitone-apart’ system button accordion of a type often associated with Irish-American players in the 20th century. In any case, I’ve played safe and followed Terence’s use of ‘box’ in the rest of this review.
- The album starts with a set of polkas: ‘Johnny O’Leary’s / Kilcummin Lasses / The Ballyvaughan Polka’. The first two are among the many associated with the Kerry button accordion player Johnny O’Leary, and the last was written by Terence Winch, who plays ‘box’, while Michael Winch contributes fiddle, Jesse Winch plays harmonica, Tina Eck plays flute, and Dominick Murray plays guitar. Very nicely arranged, making the best of the dynamic possibilities of instruments that come and go over the course of the set.
- The lyrics to ‘Lannisters’ Ball (Game Of Thrones here Song)’ were written by Terence Winch and set to the tune of ‘Lannigan’s Ball’ (but incorporating a break using ‘Brian Boru’s March’. I’ve never seen Game Of Thrones myself, so some of the humour may be lost on me, but I’ve seen enough references to the programme on social media to raise a smile anyway. Vocal and guitar honours go to Belfast’s Seamus Kennedy, with whistle from Tina, bodhrán from Jesse, and fiddle from Michael.
- ‘Lally’s Alley / Cat’s Tail & Gravy’ couple together an air and a hornpipe, both written and played by Terence, along with fiddle, bodhrán, guitar and flute from Michael, Jesse, Dominick and Tina.
- ‘Nelly, My Love, and Me’ is a song to be found in Moffat’s Minstrelsy of Ireland (1897) and P.W. Joyce’s Ancient Irish Music (1893), these words having been written by Joyce. Dominick provides lead vocal and guitar, with Madeline Waters on harmony vocal and cello, Michael on fiddle, and Terence on box.
- The next track is a set of reels – ‘Earl’s Chair / The Green Groves of Erin / Sailor on the Rock’ played by Michael on fiddle, Patrick Armstrong on flute, and Jesse on bodhrán, and seems to me to benefit from the sparser instrumentation.
- ‘Childhood Ground’ is a song written by Terence Winch about the “devastating impact” of the building of the Cross Bronx Expressway on many Bronx neighborhoods. Sensitively sung by Eileen Estes with harmony from Nita Conley Korn, with restrained accompaniment from Eileen herself (piano), Jeff Gruber (guitar) and Michael on fiddle.
- Terence and Jesse, along with Brendan Mulvihill on fiddle, then present a set of jigs: ‘Tommy Mulhair’s / Finish It Up / Boys of the Town’, the second of which is one of Terence’s compositions, fitting very well with the more widely-known tunes that bracket it.
- The reels that follow – ‘Cahercrea / The Ring Finger’ – are written by Terence Winch and Billy McComiskey respectively: Terence, Michael and Jesse are joined by Dominick on guitar and Tina on flute.
- The song ‘Welcome Home’, written and performed by Dominick, also features harmonies from Madeline Waters and Connor Murray, whose birth was the subject of the song. The instrumentation is augmented by Connor’s mandolin, Michael’s fiddle, and Terence’s box.
- The next track consists of two reels preceded by a relatively well-known hornpipe: ‘The Wonder Hornpipe / Austin Tierney’s / The Thunder Reel’.
- Terence’s song ‘Sinning’ is a “hymn to hedonism” is nicely sung without accompaniment by Brian Gaffney.
- The jigs ‘The Blooming Meadows / The Monaghan Jig’, played by Michael, Patrick, and Jesse, are fine tunes to be found in O’Neill’s Music Of Ireland.
- Terence’s song ‘This Day Too’ is sung by Nita, accompanying herself on piano, with harmony by Eileen, joined by Michael on fiddle and Jesse on guitar.
- The set of reels ‘In Memory of Michael Coleman / Hughie’s Cap / Forget Me Not’ is a showcase for Michael’s fluent fiddle, given extra impetus by Conor Hearn’s cittern-like chording on guitar. Probably my favourite track.
- The song ‘The Homes of Donegal’, with words written by Sean McBride to the tune more commonly known as ‘Tramps And Hawkers’ in Scotland, is at least as interesting historically as it is musically, as it begins with an informal performance from the ’60s by The Two Pats – PJ Conway and Patrick Winch – before the theme is taken up by Dominick, accompanied by Terence, Madeline (on cello and harmony vocal) and Michael on fiddle and tenor banjo.
As you’d expect, given the decades that the Winch family have represented Irish music in the US, this is a solidly-crafted collection of not-too-familiar tunes old and not-so-old, and the songs generally sit comfortably next to them. Though personally I prefer the more modern-sounding ‘This Day Too’ and ‘Childhood Ground’. (Still, I’m almost tempted to find a home for ‘Sinning’ in my repertoire, if only for the first line – “Oh when I was a young man I pursued every vice“.)