Dan Milner,
Irish Ballads & Songs of the Sea
(Folk-Legacy Records, 1998)

With a voice that authentically paints the historical portraits -- times, places, ships, customs and characters -- within Irish sailing songs, Dan Milner brings to life the highs and lows, the sometimes tragic, sometimes humorous, while always entertaining depictions of seafaring life in Irish Ballads & Songs of the Sea.

Opening with "Paddy West," a humorous of tale of a sailor "finishing school," Milner describes the lessons boarding house proprietor Paddy West taught his fresh-faced recruits -- the "practicing" of stowing sail using a window blind as the actual learning tool, circling a bull's horn for the purpose of declaring experience navigating Cape Horn, jumping from one side of a rope placed on the floor to the other to have the seasoning of "crossing the line" (the Equator), and enduring buckets of water thrown in the face to replicate sailing stormy waters. These techniques provided Paddy's proteges the veneer of sailors -- at least enough for the purpose of getting hired. Lou Killen on concertina and Mick Moloney on mandolin collaborate smoothly with the vocals.

Milner's a cappella version of "The Loss of the Ship Jane Maria" is a solemn tribute to those lost lost at sea, both sailors and passengers, fleeing the famine during the great emigration of the late 1840s and early 1850s.

The bouncy and rollicking "The Harp Without the Crown," is aided by Billy McComiskey on accordion, and he closes it with "The Connachtman's Rambles" jig. "The Nightingale" is a solo lament about the forced sailoring of civilians into Britain's Royal Navy, a practice that, according to the liner notes, was still in effect through the 1850s.

On "Row, Bullies, Row," backed by Moloney on guitar, mandolin and chorus and Killen on chorus, Milner's mariner offers a warning to other sailors to stay away from the unscrupulous boarding house bastards and whores. Otherwise, "your head'll be sick and your nob'll be sore" and you'll awaken back out at sea after being drugged and "sold" to another ship captain.

"Leave Her, Johnny, Leave Her," traditionally the last song sung before departing ship, is a fitting tune to also conclude the release. The vocals of Milner, Killen and Moloney provide a wistful air to the piece, blending well with Moloney's subtle guitar play.

Backed by a stellar cast consisting of Louis Killen (concertina and vocals), Mick Moloney (mandolin, guitar and vocals), Andy O'Brien (guitar and vocals), Billy McComiskey (accordion), Brendan Mulvihill (viola), Brian Conway (violin), Bob Conroy (guitar and vocals), Liam Milner (vocals), Jan Christensen (guitar) and Frank Woerner (vocals), Milner performs solo, shares lead vocals or is backed in chorus throughout this release. The instrumentation throughout is low key but ample, combining with the vocals to paint vivid images and memorable settings.

[ by Kevin McCarthy ]

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