Mariah Wade – “Drink deep and depart” Doras Records. By right I shouldn’t like this CD; I’m regarded as a ‘purist’, a lover of old songs and old singers and ‘the raw bar’. I love the old ways that directed attention to the song rather than the singer; that were focussed in community rather than entertainment but I’m forced to say it, I don’t merely like the album: I love it.
And, as I say, I shouldn’t; it begins by taking a song I love, “The bonny blue-eyed lassie”, originally sung by Elizabeth Cronin during the BBC survey of the 1950s and about which I have argued bitterly because the words commonly sung differ from what she sang - at a significant point someone has substituted an inconsistent patching together of song commonplaces; it’s an affront! But here, they change the song wholesale, the tune is ironed out, the third line of each verse is repeated and the final line omitted, and the last verse is almost remade. In doing so, their “The cold frost and snow” becomes a different song – it doesn’t masquerade as anything but itself, a traditional song remade for a new age and becoming a piece of exquisite delicacy and tenderness, the same qualities that infused the original.
And these are the qualities that pervade the whole: respect, delicacy of performance and emotion, beautiful sparce accompaniments, and new songs, miniature masterpieces of allusion to traditional song style yet incorporating the feelingscape of our frantic age and all with a contemplative edge that manages to make sense of the frenetic from which they stem. Just listen to "Why Lord, Why?”, “Three”, and “Sailor, Sailor”, “The great silence” and “Silver needle”, all written by Glenn Cumiskey, who doesn’t sing but provides, almost invariably, beautiful guitar and banjo accompaniments to the singing of his wife, Catherine Doogan, and their obviously dear friend, Mary Quinn, the three members of Mariah Wade. (Their name is that of an emigrant from Ireland to the United States, who, it turned out when the three compared family history, was a ‘friend’ of all three.) The traditional songs are similarly treated with the greatest respect for the essence of each. Whether the song be slight or serious, there is no concession to audience, it’s all about the song, clarity, each song laid before the audience as the singers and player conceive it, ready to be taken into the mind and heart of an active listener; nothing fancy but admirable sense, skill and care. As I said, I love it. I’ve been contemplating its qualities for the best of five months and can’t fault more than is not worth bothering about.
I’ve known Glenn a long time; he worked in the Irish Traditional Music Archive, of which I was a Board-member. I’ve known Catherine, for a lesser time, since a bit before she married Glenn, but she comes from the village in which I now live. I met Mary for the first time at the CD’s launch at McGrory’s in Culdaff, about ten miles from here. But, for all my knowledge of them, I’d no idea they could make such a superb work; look for their next.
John Moulden, Ballyliffin, Co Donegal, 2015
John Moulden is a highly respected traditional singer. He also enjoys a world-wide reputation as a folksong collector and researcher. He has published widely on the subject of traditional song and was the proprietor of Ulstersongs, a retail company specialising in books, recordings, presentations and consultation in the area of Irish traditional song.