For many Americans the extent of their idea about Irish culture is one day a year when they douse themselves in green garb and spend the day traveling like a hoard of drunken Ulysses around town and getting themselves drunk on Guinness and shots of Jameson or some cheap, watered down Pilsner that has been dyed green for the day. Then they stumble home, puke and forget about it until the next March.
During these sojourns however one is likely to hear a fair amount of tunes from the Pogues and Flogging Molly, et al, and likely thousands of covers of “Whiskey in the Jar.” Though if one is lucky enough one might also run into a live set of musicians playing traditional Irish folk tunes, which drunk or sober are among the most heartfelt and endearing songs you will ever hear anywhere. Irish culture has given to the arts perhaps more than any other culture, some of its greatest treasures. I am thinking here of Yeats, Joyce and Beckett, just to name some heavy hitters. There is a lot of pain in Ireland’s history, which is well documented in song, but also so much happiness. It is this mix of pain and pleasure that makes traditional Irish folk songs so endearing and lasting.
Irish folk singer Cormac Gannon was born in County Mayo, in the west of Ireland and moved to San Francisco in 1991. It was here with like-minded musicians that Gannon formed the group Orla and The Gas Men, and played traditional Irish folk ballads, himself singing and playing bodhrán, guitar, and eventually uilleann pipes.
Gannon decided to put together an album of traditional Irish folk songs along with an original and a tune by Townes Van Zant and Steve Earle. It’s called Different and it is an impressionable album no matter what time of year it is.
Opening with “I'm Going To Set You Free” Gannon begins to lay down the traditional tones and sounds for which Irish music is known. He takes some twists and turns though like the mellow and sparse “Up Mayo” and then the beautiful and episodic “I Got to Dance with the Rose of Tralee” and then the Neil Young-esque “Ride On.”
If you’re not a fan of Irish folk music for 364 days out of the year then Different will likely be lost on you. However if you approach it from the standpoint of an open mind you will find Gannon’s vocals to be a lovely siren song and his musicianship and attention to detail to be inspiring.
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