Tommy Fleming,
The Contender
(Dara, 2000)

Tommy Fleming is not the best-known name in Irish music, but his voice is the tops.

Like Mary Black, Dolores Keane, Maura O'Connell and Eleanor Shanley, Fleming first came to notice as the vocalist with the unparalleled De Danann. This CD, subtitled A Classic Irish Collection, is a showcase for his ability and his unerring choice of music.

"The Contender," the title track, was written by Jimmy McCarthy and tells the sad but true tale of Jack Doyle -- The Gorgeous Gael -- who was a contender in the boxing ring but fell from grace through celebrity. "When I die a drunk down on the street" and "from the contender to the brawl" are lines that epitomise this great piece of writing performed so stunningly by Fleming.

Although called an Irish collection it is a Stephen Foster song, "Hard Times," that stands out on the album. "Danny Boy" gets a brand new treatment, which lifts this often over-sentimentalised song to new heights.

Classic songs given new life include "Galway Bay," "Black is the Colour" and "The Meeting of the Waters." Some of these songs have been murdered so often at weddings, funerals and pub sessions that we forget their true beauty and heartfelt sentiment. Fleming restores them to the canon of great Irish music.

"Only Our Rivers Run Free" is one of the best Irish songs of the 20th century. It is so simple that we all think we can sing it or even that we could have written it. Listen to Fleming sing it and you will know what a great voice it needs to do it justice. His clear, unadorned singing makes us realise the poetry of these simple words.

Tommy Fleming is another Irish voice to hear and a star in the making. If his music is played he will be a huge star.

[ by Nicky Rossiter ]
Rambles: 11 May 2002

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