Live at Passim

Boys of the Lough, The

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Intimate Setting Yields Incredible Interplay

Recorded at the famed Harvard Square folk club Passim over three nights in 1974, this lively disc serves as an introduction to the traditional songs of Ireland, Scotland, and Shetland, at least the ones heard in pubs and at dances. As was the fashion at the time among Celtic ensembles, the Boys of the Lough lean on the old ways of doing things, often assembling several brief pieces together into "sets": Track four, for example, knits together three Irish reels, "The Boys of Twenty-Five," a boisterous country dance called "The Boyne Hunt," and "Chase Her Through the Garden." There are no seams between these fast-moving pieces. Instead, the band tumbles from one to the next, using brief instrumental caprices to link disparate tunes.

In performance, the Boys of the Lough display the kind of steady-handed agility often associated with jazz musicians—their straightforward songs are enlivened by conversational asides (many from mandolin virtuoso Dave Richardson) and moments of almost giddy, unexpected joy. The quartet became one of the more celebrated ensembles during the Chieftains-led explosion of interest in Celtic music in the early '70s, and this disc shows why. Few other groups kick up as lively a ruckus as this one does on the early selections, and just when you get accustomed to the whimsical stuff, along comes an ode like "The Flower of Magherally" to remind you how heavy-hearted—and disarmingly lovely—Celtic music can be.

The disc's accompanying booklet contains brief descriptions of the pieces, often tracing their lineage and offering insight into the band's intentions. This comes in handy when listening to "The New Set," which finds the Boys knitting together several jigs and a reel before ending with an altered mazurka. On paper, that suggests something of a train wreck. In performance, it's delightful.

Genre: World, Celtic
Released: 1975, Philo
Key Tracks: "General Guinness," "The Boys of Twenty-Five," "The Hound and the Hare," "The New Set."
Catalog Choice: The Boys of the Lough
Next Stop: The Chieftains: 4
After That: Dick Gaughan: Handful of Earth
Book Page: 110

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