Sunday, February 8, 2009

Irish Pirate Ballads and More

My friend Dan Milner, whom I first met when he ran concerts at the old Eagle Tavern on Fourteenth Street in Manhattan, has been a lyrical presence on the Irish and folk music scenes in New York City since the 1970s. His latest CD, Irish Pirate Ballads and Other Songs of the Sea, brings together good music, stellar supporting artists, and splendid liner notes.

The selection of songs on this CD is generous, with classics such as "The Flying Cloud" and less-known numbers such as "Larry Maher's Big Five-Gallon Jar," a delightful inheritance from mid-nineteenth-century New York. As befits a man who is studying for a graduate degree in cultural geography at the City University of New York (I'm the second reader on his M.A. thesis), Dan's notes shed sound historical light on all his songs.

What is especially enjoyable about these notes, though, is their autobiographical content. Dan's recollections of his family's immigration from Ireland to England to Canada to New York, his stories of growing up in Brooklyn a Dodgers fan, and his reminiscences of the trans-Atlantic folk scene are sensitive and deftly rendered. Together, they help us grasp the many people, places and influences that have made him such a fine musician and folklolrist.

Dan celebrated the release of Irish Pirate Ballads on Smithsonian Folkways Friday at New York University's Glucksman Ireland House. There, Don Meade continues the concert series that Dan began many years ago at the Eagle.

As usual Dan's unaccompanied singing was excellent, with superb phrasing and great tone. When he was joined in various combinations by his wife Bonnie, Gabriel Donohue, Don Meade, and the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra, the results were delightful.

The concert was also a great opportunity for me to revisit to my own musical history. My love of Irish folk music dates to about 1968, when my patrol leader in the Boy Scouts, Larry Burke, introduced me to the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. Two of my favorite numbers on their albums were "The Lowlands Low," a song about the flight of the Wild Geese, and the beautiful lyric, ""Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go?" Both found their way onto the program Friday and I much appreciated them--as I think listeners will appreciate this CD.