Measured Extravagance

2000-10-03 - 6:45 p.m.

I'm about to go cook up a pot of colcannon (potatoes mashed with cabbage and onions -- much tastier than it sounds, and isn't it a pretty name?), which means it's time to put some Irish music on the boom box:

"Red is the rose in yonder garden grows
And fair is the lily of the valley…"

Until I listened to Connie Dover's rendition of "Red Is the Rose" on John Whelan's Flirting with the Edge, I had never really realized what a heartbreaking song "Loch Lomond" actually is. After all, when you really think about it, it's hard to get much bleaker than "Me and my true love will never meet again"--but it's hard for those words to pierce through smiling Lawrence-Welkian blandness or upbeat children's-record march-around-the-room-ness, which is how I remember hearing the song performed in the past.

The lyrics of "Red Is the Rose" are actually more cheerful than those of "Loch Lomond," excepting the last verse. When Connie Dover sings them, however, her voice vibrates with unsuppressed yearning. The song slowly builds from her unadorned, haunted voice at its opening to a full ensemble of accordion, synths, drums and backing vocals echoing the lover's doomed call:

"Come over the hills, my own bonny lass
Come over the hills to your lover
You take the road, love, and I'll take the vail
And I swear I will love you forever."

The other vocal on the CD is a rendition of "Dublin Lady" by Bernadette Peters (and the reason the CD interested me in the first place)--also a song about heartbreak, but very different in demeanor. I would call it an almost astringent arrangement -- one where the heartbreak is no less real, but musically, it's the effect of a punch in the gut (one that you see coming, but the impact nevertheless socks you) instead of a long wave of grief.

And when one isn't in the mood for heartbreak at all, there's the rest of the CD, split between Irish dance tunes and instrumental meditations. I've got "This Is Sirius/Falling for Charlotte" rocking away on my player at the moment, and the title polka always makes me want to go out and find someone to whirl me around a ceildh.

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