Friday, February 20, 2009

The Greatest Song. Ever.

Paul Brady has an album of duets with the comparably talented Andy Irvine called Andy Irvine & Paul Brady originally released on the tiny Irish Mulligan label in 1976 (and later in the US on Green Linnet) and finally released on CD a few years back.

The album is brilliant, but there is one piece that Brady does all by himself that closes the record's first side (remember "records" and "sides"?) that I love to play for people who've never heard it. I think it's played in an Open G tuning (though that doesn't get me any closer to being able to play it myself). The guitar playing seems almost magical to me; his hands just bounce on the surface of the strings like dragonflies on the surface of a pond.

Brady's gorgeous tenor is perfectly suited to the task as well. If you've ever seen Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle films Brady plays the Maitre D' in Cremaster 3 in which he sings in Gaelic the entire time he's on screen (here's an excerpt):

But "Arthur McBride...."

I don't know exactly when it's set (when was England sending soldiers off to fight the French?) but the battle that takes place in it is just lovely. "And we lathered them there like a pair of wet sacks, and left them for dead in the morning." Gives me a chill every time I sing it. And the irony at the end, "We obligingly asked if they wanted recruits / For we were the lads who would give them hard clouts / And bade them look sharp in the morning." Man... you can't beat it with a shillelagh.

From the same record, "The Plains of Kildare" and old Irish song that, when moved to the mountains of Appalachia in the 19th Century, becomes "Old Stewball Was a Racehorse."

Here's a bonus; not on their album, Andy & Paul do "The Lakes of Pontchartrain."


Anonymous said...

Very, very special.

It sends a continual shiver down my spine. The combination of the melody, his awesome voice and the subversive lyrics are dynamite.
P(p)olitical as so many of the best folk songs are, it's wonderful to see the hint of a smile play around his mouth as he starts into the song aware there will be people hearing it for the first time.
Brady was born on the border between Ulster and the Republic and Derek Barker's excellent recent book "The Songs He Didn't Write - Bob Dylan" gives more detail. He says the song was first collected in 1840 in Limerick.
Of course we all know Bob's version and I listened to it and this one both only yesterday. Still not sure if it's on the 90s "folk" album you tolerate or deride?? sealy

Stan Denski said...

I like Bob, I truly do. But his version doesn't hold an unlit candle in a room in a different hotel compared to Brady's. And one of those records is horribly recorded, the other not so much, and, though it's a fine record, I think I've listened to it maybe twice. I just don't care. People downright mythologize Dylan's place in EVERYTHING in order to imbue those records with some quality that, quite frankly, they don't have.

Maybe that's the motivation behind the unending horror of the NET -- Dylan doesn't want to be remembered as a writer. Nobody wants to be loved for the thing that made us love them. How many famous guitarists have finally put out solo LPs on which they play almost no guitar?

People are just funny that way.

Anonymous said...

Indeed there is no comparison between the performances.

I gave up on Bob in the mid 70s but eventually regained my interest and enthusiasm following TOOM and L&T. That all sent me back to tracking down all the Basement Tapes, reading the Marcus book, getting the 2 "folk" albums and from there to the Harry Smith set, Dock Boggs and....Paul Brady.

My interest in folk music goes right back to studying "Industrial Ballads" in school...on to Fairport and various places thereafter.

Not all the Irish stuff you can hear in the bars is as good as "Arthur McBride" but there is the Guinness.

Stan Denski said...


Much like baseball, Irish music gets better the more you drink.

MoeLarryAndJesus said...

I'm 1st-generation Harpo-American, and one of the most amazing nights of my childhood happened when my parents had a party and dozens of my relatives came. Half of them I'd never seen before and haven't seen since. And sometime late in the evening they decided to start singing. Bus drivers and steelworkers and who-knows-what were belting out "John Connolly" and songs in Gaelic and my father sang "Black Velvet Band." No instruments involved. I would never have thought most of these people could sing, but damn.

I grew up with this stuff and it's always been a big part of why I love music. Now I'm off to play some Christy Moore records.

Tore Johannes said...

I really appreciate this blog post. It is so nice to see more people touched by Brady's music and voice.