Dorman Ralph,
Dorman Ralph
(Singsong, 1999)

Dorman Ralph was a blind button accordionist (GB melodeon player) born in Newfoundland in 1923. This self-titled CD, recently released through Newfoundland's Singsong Productions, is a selection of recordings made in 1986, 13 years before his death.

The cover notes offer revealing transcriptions of conversations with him as he speaks about his blindness, his accident-prone childhood, his innate sense of mischief and independence, and his early gift for music, which surfaced when he began to strum on hooking-mat frame lines! When 8 years old, he learned harmonica and, already absorbing his family's repertoire of old-time and traditional tunes and songs, also learned from phonograph recordings and radio broadcasts. His button accordion (melodeon) career began in his early teenage years and he was soon playing for local dances where he also began accompanying his singing with the music of the accordion, which was an unusual style in Newfoundland at the time. At the age of 33, Dorman moved to St. John's, where his popularity spread as he met and played with other musicians and attended folk festivals during a period that saw a revival of interest in traditional music.

Always happy to share his music with others, Genevieve Lehr collected many of his songs and published them in her collection Come and I Will Sing You.

The CD contains 19 tunes and songs; six are of Dorman's composition, continuing the folk traditions of setting to music memorable occasions or satire. Many of the traditional songs may have a Newfoundland slant to them, but the roots are predominantly British or Irish and are easily recognisable to the British folk aficionado.

Limited by the range of his melodeon, Dorman's singing voice and range are admirable, and would put many much more "professional" folksingers to shame. Particularly of note is his rendition of "Susan Strayed the Briny Beach." There is the anticipated mix of the tragic, the murderous and the comic among these folk lyrics, and while this CD will not appeal to a broad group, those who appreciate the genuine folksinger and the skill of the melodeon player will enjoy this refreshing selection.

- Rambles
written by Jenny Ivor
published 29 March 2003