Robert Mouland,
Fireside Tales: Stories and
Music from the Irish Tradition

(WireHarp, 1999)

Robert Mouland carries on the tradition of the seanachie with Fireside Tales: Stories and Music from the Irish Tradition. This collection of eight tracks of music and stories is enchanting from the first note to the last.

Mouland plays no fewer than five instruments -- clairseach na heireann (Irish harp), English Bentside spinet, fiddle, whistle and flute -- and the CD features both solo pieces and tunes incorporated into the four stories he tells. The first track, "My Nanny O," is performed on a wooden (ebony) whistle and is a lovely, wistful haunting melody composed by James Oswald. It is followed by "The Tayman," a clever story about a tea peddler who takes shelter with a farmer and his wife overnight. Mouland's deep voice and rolling brogue is just right for this slightly sly tale with an unexpected ending; the narrative is book-ended with the reel "The Cup of Tea" played on "an antique one-keyed baroque flute," according to the liner notes.

Mouland goes on to demonstrate his skill as a harper with "Rory Dalls Sisters Lament," an evocative air, delicate yet not frail, composed by Rory Morrison, "the Blind Harper of Dunvegan (1656-1714)." "Charles O'Connor" by Turlough O'Carolan follows, performed on the spinet, and its lively rolling melody captures the listener's spirit and imagination.

When I saw "The Star Thrower" listed on the outside of the CD, I admit that I felt a touch of trepidation, because I have seen Loren Eiseley's moving account of the man who throws starfish back into the sea mangled too many times -- often without crediting Eiseley! I had no reason to worry, though. Not only does Mouland respect Eiseley's narrative, he elevates it in true storyteller tradition, incorporating the theme into a gorgeous and poignant original story, touched with mystery and magic. The tale is underscored with music, including "The Wounded Hussar," "O My Country," "Gur E Mo Ghille Dbh Donn" and "The Kid on the Mountain" performed on a variety of instruments. This story will make a difference in any listener's heart.

"The Fiddler and the Phuca" follows, a lively tale about a fiddler who can only play one tune who has a more than close encounter with the faerie folk. Mouland incorporates a number of tunes into the telling, such as "The Rocky Road to Dublin," "The Sliabn Luarcha Polka," "The Mug of Grown Ale," "Ryan's Fancy" and "The Connactman's Rambles" -- played, naturally, on the fiddle. Next is "O Rare Turpin Hero," the melody of a song about the highwayman Dick Turpin, performed on the spinet. The stately tune hints of intrigue and adventure.

The final track is also the longest, "King Cormac's Cup" from Celtic mythology, about a king who overcomes his flaws through his own personal quest when his faults lead to loss. The tale is accompanied with "Moran's Return," "Urchnoc Chein Mhic Caine," "Dr. John Hart," and "Balitorum," also performed on several instruments.

Robert Mouland's Fireside Tales is the perfect addition to the collection of anyone interested in Irish music and folklore and is well-suited to the entire family. The beautifully detailed liner notes enhance the listening experience which is, in itself, remarkable. It would be a treat to see Mouland perform live, but if that's not possible, you could hardly treat yourself more than to get this CD.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

Visit Mouland's website.