OWEN MOORE – Songs From The Shamrock Bar (PJO Records)

Songs From The Shamrock BarSongs From The Shamrock Bar, subtitled A 10-Year Anthology, and timely available for St Patrick’s Day, this, as it says, gathers together around an hour’s worth of songs from the relaxingly warm-voiced Dublin-born multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter’s past decade, and, as per the title, with a decided Irish theme running through.

Racing drums and jangling guitars kick  off ‘Galtee Moon’, a portrait the Galtee mountains on the Tipperary, Cork and Limerick border “where the hares run and the falcons swoop and fly/And there are shadows in the moonlight on the mountain/Where the wind howls like a screaming banshee”, that subsequently serves as a backdrop to the Irish War of Independence as a young colleen lies in bed thinking of her young man “hiding up there by the tarn” while the black and  tans are on the hunt.

The gently jogging ‘I Heard It On The Radio’ is the first of two numbers recalling his discovery of music, a fond reminiscence of childhood (“In the days when electricity on a farm was still a rarity” and discovering the magic of  “a battery-powered radio”, introducing him to not only music but “things I knew I’d want to know/About world affairs and great events, kings and queens and presidents”. The other is ‘Nelson’s Neon Jukebox’, a memory of a café  in O’Connell Street in 1962 and his first encounter with a jukebox. listening to Ray Charles sing ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’ and how, in its infectious chorus “that jukebox was a bright chrome-plated treasure chest to me/It held all the songs you could ever want to know/If you were happy or just feeling blue, it had the very song for you/Press the buttons, let the music flow”.

The briskly jogging Irish country ‘Mr Frank’ is another memory of  youth, the story of Hank Franklin from Sacramento  who married a local girl and of his being impressed by the fact that, rather attending Mass on Sundays, he’d spend the day polishing his two-tone cream and candy turquoise green Buick Roadmaster, in which the young Moore dreamed of riding but never did, “Though I sat upon its cowhide seats and held its driving wheel” and “pretend that I was cruising down The Boulevard at night”. However, on his eighth birthday, he received  a cardboard box inside which “was the neatest, sweetest toy/With two-tone paint, whitewall tyres and tiny sparks of chrome/A little Buick model car, a new Roadmaster of my own”.

Moore has a deft way of capturing characters in his song, another such being the equally upbeat ‘Queen Of The Shoolin Fair’, a travelling  fair, on who the narrator has a crush (“ I’ll buy her flowers and everything, oh, I wish I had the money for a diamond ring/But with my fairground queen, I’ll be king, when I go to the Shoolin Fair”), the song overflowing with the wide eyed spirit of youth and more innocent days.

A slightly slower strum, ‘Cottage On The Farm’  is the story of three brothers (“Jerome, as he was oldest, had stayed to plough and work the fields/And when God had called on Timothy, he had bowed and he had kneeled/James had marched through farming soil on Belgian battlefields/But they’d been drawn back home to work upon the farm”) and how “I never saw them angry and I never heard them swear” and  “I would sit there in their kitchen and hang on every word they’d say”  about how joining in the struggle for Irish independence (“Constructing roadblocks in the country, conducting night raids in the town”) had brought trouble and tragedy to the farm (“There had been one other brother, a little younger than the rest/Daniel was the darlin’ boy that their mother had loved the best/But he’d been taken from that kitchen, when informers had confessed/And they had found him by the stream down upon the farm”).

Expanding the musical horizons, the tale of a horse, the eight minute racetrack tragic ‘Cousin Lil’ opens with moody kletzmer sounding guitar work before the tempo picks up with a shuffling beat snare and border country acoustic guitar picking, closing with a troubadour guitar pattern and folksy martial beat lope outro. That’s followed by ‘An Irish Song & A Spanish Guitar’  is a gently rolling rambling musician number  (“When I first left home, I didn’t look back, I knew I was walking down a one-way track/Following a dream, chasing a wandering star/A clean change of clothes in a canvas sack, all I had to my name was the coat on my back/A head full of songs and my grandfather’s old guitar”).

Another than passes the eight minute mark (only two are under five),’On The Military Road’ is a masterful New Year’s Eve ghost story narrative  (“I became aware through that cold, white air, of footsteps drawing near/Then I saw a group of men, maybe nine or ten, gradually appear/No words were said, none turned their head, nor looked me in the eye/Just stared straight ahead, expressions dead, as they passed me, marching by…they were dressed, in their raggedness, in clothes from long ago/Each man looked hurt in torn, blood-stained shirt with tattered, bandaged head or hand”). As a matter of historical note that adds resonance to the song, the Military Road runs across the spine of the Wicklow Mountains and was constructed between 1800 and 1809, in the wake of the 1798 rebellion, to open up the mountains to the British Army in putting down insurgents who were hiding there.

And he wouldn’t be a proper Irish songwriter if there wasn’t sentimental emigration ballad,  thus things come to a close with ‘Across The Irish Sea’, the narrator recalling home, as a baby, his mother “closed the door behind us both and said her last goodbye/With a suitcase in her hand she bade farewell to her homeland/And she carried me away across the sea”, always returning home one a year to reconnect with her heritage and roots, he finally taking her back to be buried in her native soil.

While Irish folk music and singers are regarded with reverence, there a tendency to treat mainstream Irish country with a certain disdain, as somehow cheesy with excess sentimentality and corn and, while that may be true at times, and no less so with old school American country, veteran names such as Philomena Begley, Brendan Shine, Larry Cunningham, Johnny McEvoy, Frankie McBride, and Ray Lynam are very much the real thing.  At times coming over like an Irish Don Williams, Moore fully warrants mention in the same breath.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.owenmooremusic.com

‘The Military Road’ – official video: