The Once,
Row Upon Row of the People They Know
(Borealis, 2011)

A lot of musicians have good cause to be very, very angry with The Once.

Y'see, I have stacks of CDs waiting to be reviewed. There are piles of envelopes littering my house that haven't even been opened yet. If I decided to go without food, drink or sleep and did nothing but listen to CDs 24/7, I still wouldn't be able to review them all in any kind of reasonable amount of time.

But ever since Geraldine Hollett, lead singer of The Once, handed me her band's two CDs, I haven't been listening to much else. So if you're watching this space to see if your music has been featured and it hasn't been, please address your complaints to Geraldine.

She, along with bandmates Phil Churchill and Andrew Dale, are just too damn good.

The Newfoundland trio caught my eye and ear at the 2012 Celtic Colours International Festival. I really enjoyed the band's first CD, The Once. But it doesn't even compare to their sophomore effort, Row Upon Row of the People They Know.

There isn't a song here I don't like. For the melancholy among you, there's "Valley of Kilbride," about a soldier from Newfoundland who dies in the trenches of World War I, and "By the Glow of the Kerosene Light," about a grandfather's sad but strong life. For the romantics who like a happy ending, there's "Charlie's," which sings a love story for a fisherman and his wife, who nightly requires that he promise to return safely from the sea. Knowing the tragic twist of so many Celtic love stories, I expected the worst the first time I heard this one -- but no, it's just a simple, sweet and happy song. (After listening to it that first time, on the road late one night, I woke my sleeping wife to play it for her. Luckily for me, she also liked it!)

"Jack the Sailor" is a sailor's love song but, although he doesn't get the girl of his dreams, it's cheerily upbeat nonetheless. "My Husband's Got No Courage" is a bold, bawdy tale of one woman's misery; her husband, it seems, just can't seal the deal ("courage" here is a metaphor). And "A Round Again," a contemporary pop-oriented number, is the relentlessly chipper song of a girl who just doesn't know how to catch the eye of that yummy bartender.

There's "You're My Best Friend" -- yes, the Queen song -- as well as "Cradle Hill," "Ode to a Broken Heart" and "Song for Memory," all of which I mention because everything here is good and I don't want to leave anything out.

I never heard of The Once before October, and now I'm madly in love with the band's 2010 and 2011 CD releases. Since 2012 is nearly gone, I can only assume the next CD is on the verge of release.


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music review by
Tom Knapp

8 December 2012

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