Ryan's Fancy,
What a Time! A Forty Year Celebration
(Singsong, 2011)

The members of Ryan's Fancy carried the music of their homeland, Ireland, to their new home, Canada, and made a rousing success by blending the two.

Now, nearly 30 years after the Irish-Canadian trio disbanded, their music is gaining new life through the band's first-ever CD release. What a Time! A Forty Year Celebration is a two-disc, 42-track collection that gives this gone-but-not-forgotten band its due.

The band -- Denis Ryan, Fergus O'Byrne and Dermot O'Reilly -- grew out of the Toronto music scene in 1971, when fragments of previous Irish-Canadian bands (Sullivan's Gypsies and Sons of Erin among them) shifted their base to St. John's, Newfoundland, and reformed as Ryan's Fancy. They performed for two decades, producing 12 LPs and headlining a national TV series, before calling it quits in 1983.

I'll leave it to the scholars to explain -- in great detail, if you look around -- just how influential these boys were on Newfoundland's strong musical tradition, to say nothing of the broader scope of Canadian music. Suffice it to say, these 42 tracks are the tip of a much larger iceberg that I would love to see released soon.

The songs here range from the common to the obscure, including (to name but a few) "Feller from Fortune," "Cape Breton Dream," "Sweet Forget Me Not," "The Star of Logy Bay," "West Country Lady," "Sea People," "Bold O'Donahue," "The Cliffs of Baccalieu," "Ban Chnoic Eireann O," "Coal Town Road," "Farewell to Nova Scotia," "Mist Covered Mountains of Home," "The Rocky Road to Dublin" and "The Parting Glass." There's a happy balance between the traditions of Ireland and the Atlantic coastal provinces of Canada (primarily Newfoundland and Nova Scotia).

Ryan's Fancy has an earnest, pleasant sound that is well polished, yet retains a rough, earthy feel. The lads take turns singing lead or work together in harmony, offering plenty of variety. And, although recorded a few decades back, these tracks sound clear and freshly minted. All in all, I'll number What a Time! among my favorite releases (so far) of 2011!

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music review by
Tom Knapp

21 May 2011

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