The predominant theme of Dé Danann's new LP featuring singer Maura O'Connell from Ennis is the awakened interest in the heyday of Irish-American music in the 1920's.
The frantic era of the Charleston and Blackbottom was boom-time, too, for Irish-American music. In the concert-halls, the angelic voice of John McCormack trilled an innocent and idealised vision of a lovely past, tinged with sweet regret. Meanwhile, in the taprooms and dancehalls, the Flanagan brothers belted out hectically rhythmic dance music and knockabout stage-Irish vaudeville farce.
From the McCormack songbook Maura sings "Then you'll remember me" from Balfe's "Bohemian Girl", and "Maggie", a version of McCormack's "When you and I were young, Maggie." Maura's third song on this album is definitely from the taproom end of the music spectrum. "My Irish Molly-O" was the nearest the Flanagan brothers got to a foxtrot and expresses their characteristic cynicism about romantic affairs.
The last bastion of genuine mid-Atlantic nostalgia to survive into the '80's was Leo Maguire's 15-minute Walton's programme on Radio Eireann every Saturday afternoon. Sung originally by Joe Lynch on the Glenside label, "Come back again to me, Mavourneen" is a classic item from the now sadly defunct programme of "the songs our fathers loved".
In the '20's Irish instrumentalists of every description crowded into the recording studios to provide 78 r.p.m. records for the homesick Irish community, singers, fiddlers, flute players, players of the jews harp, of the xylophone, of the comb-and-paper
The instrument par excellence of the period, though, was (he single row 10-key melodeon. The first virtuoso, unbelievably, in an age rampant with racism, was a German-American named John Kimmel who flourished as "The Irish Dutchman"! Kimmel's sound was described in the record catalogue of the time as being somewhere between a Scotch bagpiper and a jazz band. On "The Cuckoo's Nest" on this record Jackie Daly plays an accordion he has himself built to reproduce Kimmel's rich reedy sound.
Arguably the greatest fiddler of the era was Sligoman James Morrison. Unlike archrival Michael Coleman who was primarily a soloist and musical purist, Morrison reveled in duets with accordeonists, flute players and even a washboard player on one recording. The Morrison reel selection on this record, with Frankie Gavin doubling on concert flute, includes "The Tailor's Thimble" which Morrison recorded with Leitrim flute player Fire patrolman John McKenna.
Last song on the album is that rarity in an age of sentiment, a tear-free emigration song. Careful listening will reveal scarcely a tinge of regret as Frankie sings "I'm Leaving Tipperary", echoing perhaps the restrained optimism of the original rendition by Larry Griffin and the Shamrock Band.