Each page has a link to a short sound clip... See the liner notes for each song below.
|Maid Who Sold Her Barley||Lyrics|
|The Laird O'Cockpen||Lyrics|
|Juice Of The Barley||Lyrics|
|Wild Mountain Thyme featuring Joe Rollin Porter||Lyrics|
|Red Haired Mary||Lyrics|
|Siuil A Run||Lyrics|
|Dawning Of The Day (instrumental)||Listen|
|How Can I Keep From Singing featuring Brittany Converse||Lyrics|
Many of these songs I have had from friends and recordings from years past. Having researched lyrics for quite awhile, I know that there are variations to a given song, often depending on someone's memory or the particular place or style it is presented within. I love traditional music and I love the way time and place can color a tune or lyrics. I have chosen to include the verses and words although I am aware that there are other possibilities. I have based that choice on crafting a version that - hopefully - will get the story across in the best possible manner. I hope you enjoy those stories and the tunes that go with them! And one more word on Irish or Scottish words... I've done the best I know and most of that I had by ear, so please pardon if the pronunciation is not perfect. I have tried to sing the heart of the words...
“Barbara Allen” is a song with quite an itinerary, There are countless versions and the song is at least three centuries old. It's origins are somewhere in the British Isles, Scotland and England both claim it. Versions are found as far afield as Italy and Scandinavia. This was originally Number 84 in the Child Ballad Collection and 54 in Roud's collection. Her name is given in various ways from Barbara Allen to Barbara Ellen or Barbr'y Allen or even Barbriallen.It traveled across the Atlantic to the US and according to one source, there are over 98 versions of the tune in Virginia alone! In one version, William slights Barbara by toasting all the lovely girls except her, so there may be a motive for her attitude! Samuel Pepys refers to the "little Scottish tune" in his Diaries in 1666 and wrote that he was moved to tears when he heard a kitchen maid singing it.
“The Maid Who Sold Her Barley” shares a melody with a beautifully sad song from the Era of Rebellion called “The Wind That Shakes The Barley” - which is NOT the same as the fiddle tune! In the version I sing here, a rather lusty young man encounters a rather industrious and pragmatic girl for a bit of a one night stand!
“Spanish Lady” is euphemism for a lady of the night, girl for hire... you get the idea... She would advertise her “wares” by washing her feet and showing off her bare ankles! (A definite come-on in that day!) Of course, the night watch was always on the lookout for young lads wanting to be corrupted. I've heard this with a slightly different tune and chorus, but this is the one I like the best – and kids love the part about singing the numbers backwards! The song should not to be confused with the more seafaring song, “Spanish Ladies” - though I have rollicked out a chorus or two of that one with Pirate friends!
“The Laird O'Cockpen” is another delightful story song, this time from Scotland. It seems the fine Laid, though not such a comely fellow, decides to take a wife with a noble lineage. His thought is that his fortune and estate will make up what might be lacking in a certain physical attraction. This version is the one I first heard years ago and he is not successful at all. However, I found another verse or two where Mistress Jean has second thoughts and decides to wed the Laird after all! The final line suggests that the Laird is still not as lucky as he thinks for “as yet there's no chickens appeared at Cockpen!” On a historical note, the Laird O'Cockpen was a real person. He fought along side of King Charles II and was a musician of some note!
“Nonesuch” is a word that mean something beyond compare. It was also an English country dance named after a Tudor palace built by King Henry VIII on the site of Cuddlington, England. It was meant to rival the fanciest French castles and attracted the best of music and art in its day. Unfortunately, a later king, Charles II, (the very same one that knew the Laird O'Cockpen!) gave it to one of his mistresses, and she had it torn down and sold to pay her gambling debts! Nonetheless, it remains a delightful tune and when played at a dance the tempo is increased several times, providing both a challenge for the dancers and entertainment for the audience. I thought it would be a nice bit of music for the Laird to ride “cannily” off into the Scottish dusk!
"Juice Of The Barley" is a grand little song about drinking – and a jovial look at the hypocrisy that surrounds that pastime! It was one of the songs brought to the US by the Clancy Brothers and the other Irish bands that introduced us to Pub Songs. The Irish phrase that starts each chorus is an epithet against the folks that would turn us away from from the delights of the Pure... the Real Stuff. It was something of a rallying cry... well, as much rallying as you could muster after a few good shots: Cow's milk for the calves! (Meaning, of course, that the whiskey was for us!)
“Wild Mountain Thyme” is also known as “Purple Heather” and “Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go” and is apparently a contemporary rewriting of an older song. Yes, there is a story there! In 1957, Francis McPeake of Belfast, Northern Ireland published his verses, which are a variant of an 1821 (posthumous) publication by Robert Tannahill of Scotland and a contemporary of Robert Burns. In the early 1990's, the McPeake tried to take Rod Stewart to court to sue for royalties. However, the judge denied their claim and even asserted that Francis McPeake plagiarized the words from Tannahill's version! Regardless, it remains one of the most recognized and most sung pieces in Celtic music!
Joe Rollin Porter joins me on this lovely song with his wonderful finger-style guitar. The arrangement started to take form at the Rootstock 2011 concert and has evolved over the last year. It still amazes me to hear what he does... and I am pretty consistent in telling him I think it is magic!
“Three Ravens” is a very old English ballad, first published in 1611 by Thomas Ravenscroft from more ancient sources. It is also included in the Child Ballads in several different versions – the most known, probably is “Twa Corbies.” I remember hearing this so long ago – way before Peter, Paul and Mary. It was the melody that drew me in, then the story played in my head like a movie. In the song, the word “lack” means lake and is pronounced more like the Scottish “loch.” A “leman” was a lover or a consort and “fallow doe” was a poetic way of referring to the beautiful (and pregnant) young woman.
“Red Haired Mary” is one of my favorite songs of Ireland – just fun to share with audiences. It is the story of a flirt that goes right, in spite of, shall we say, challenges? But the boy is persistent and the girl... well, she is definitely a fine Irish girl! I definitely had a lot of fun recording this track – and it is just as much fun to perform live!
“Siúil a Rún” combines a beautifully haunting melody with the lament of a girl in love with a lad who has decided to embark on a military career... in older times, one of the few ways a man could rise above the poverty and provide for a family. The verses are in English and the chorus is in Irish. The title translates roughly to “Go, My Love” or “Walk, My Love” I listened to this for years, learning the Irish phonetically. Then I found the translation of the chorus, which I have included as the last sung chorus here.
“Dawning Of The Day” is a lovely Irish melody called “Fáinne Geal an Lae” composed by the blind harpist, Thomas Connellan in the 17th Century. It is the tune Luke Kelly used for the great poem Paddy Kavanaugh wrote that we know as “Raglan Road.” It is a song I enjoy singing a lot! There are words for a much older version of the song that are considered an "aisling" – where the bard encounters a beautiful and mysterious young woman who symbolizes Ireland. I decided to make this an instrumental, though, because the melody stands on its own. I find myself humming it frequently. I am not surprised that it is one of the first pieces a student of Irish music learns!
“Crúiscín Lán” translates roughly to “The Little Full Jug” in Irish, and presents a delightful tune about the joys of... well... of drinking! (For more information, reference St. Patrick's Day Celebrations – in the US!) The chorus translates to “Love of my heart, my little jug! Bright health, my precious one!” The song is a glimpse back to the day when folks would go down to the pub and fill ceramic jugs full of ale and beer to drink at home... or on the way home...! Why, according to this young fellow, even the gods support the right of an Irishman to his Jug!
“The Little Beggarman” is a familiar tune, if you are a fan of Irish reels: “Red Haired Boy.” In its sung version, it is one of the tongue twisters that Irish traditional songs do best. The tale is about the classic Tinker or Traveling Man, Johnny Dhu, and some of his adventures being footloose and fancy free in his native land. There seems to be some debate about what exactly a “rigadoo” is... Is it his worldly possessions? His way of life? Or maybe it is a little dance step to get him out of a tight situation!
“Skibbereen” tells the tale of a family who once lived in a town in County Cork, Ireland. It is actually the southernmost town in all of Ireland. The name is translated roughly as “Little Boat Harbor” and is often shortened to just “Skibb.” Back before 1600, it belonged to the Tribe McCarthy. During the terrible time of the Great Famine (1845-1852) it is estimated that between 8,000 – 10,000 died of starvation and were buried in a mass grave at Abbeystrewery. The song tells of a son who asks his father why they left Ireland and relates the story of how the famine and the English destroyed their farm and life in Skibbereen. At the end, the son swears to return and take vengeance for what was lost. Liam Neeson sings the song in the movie “Michael Collins” and Sinead O'Conner sings it in the PBS mini-series “The Long Journey Home.”
“How Can I Keep From Singing” was originally a Christian hymn written by an American Baptist minister, Robert Lowry, however it is debated whether he wrote the lyrics. It is not, as some have cited it, a traditional Quaker hymn, though I can certainly see the appeal to that group. The song dates from the late 1860's. It is one of a select group of songs included in both Protestant and Catholic hymnals. The song had an unusual revival in the 1950's when Doris Plenn of North Carolina wrote the final verse, which was taken up by Pete Seeger and other folk revivalists. The new words address the “witch hunts” of the McCarthy era and the blackballing of artists who expressed opinions that leaned to the left. Again, in 1991, the Irish artist, Enya, introduced the song to new audiences on her “Shepherd Moon” album and we have loved it once again.
Brittany Converse joins me on this beautiful song, playing an old violin or fiddle that was hand made by Elza Waller, my husband's great grandfather. That fiddle served as a wall decoration for well over 60 years. Until we asked Brittany to give it a try, no one had any idea if it would even play! The first notes that came out, however, were incredible. Another friend of ours, Joe Martin, has a violin shop in Canton, Ohio. He set about to restore the instrument and then Brittany played it for the recording of “How Can I Keep From Singing.” She brought out a feeling of sitting on a porch in the Appalachians, playing the fiddle while the rest of the family joined in the old hymn. I wouldn't be the least surprised if Elza Waller's spirit had peeked in to listen to the old fiddle that suddenly found its voice!