Dirty Linen Magazine
June/July 1995 (Issue #58)
During my misspent youth in New York City, I used to walk past a grungy-looking Irish pub called the Glocca Morra every day on my way to school. Turns out it's one of three bars that regularly host the Big Apple's latest up-and- coming Irish band, Four to the Bar. Although the pun in their name was stolen from a Welsh group, their style's their own.
The four in question are David Yeates from Dunboyne, Co. Meath on vocals, bodhran, flute and whistle; Martin Kelleher from Cork on guitar and vocals, along with New Yorkers Keith O'Neill on fiddle and Pat Clifford on bass. Their album, Craic on the Road: Live at Sam Maguire's [FTB002 (1994)] also features percussionist Seamus Casey and accordion player Tony McQuillan.
The songs and tunes they have chosen to perform are mostly sentimental old Irish songs with a clean-cut feel that appeals to the largely Irish and Irish-American crowd in the Bronx; I think you could find most of these songs, including "Muirshin Durkin," "The Galway Shawl," "The Black Velvet Band," "Mr. Maguire," and "I'll Tell Me Ma," on old Irish rovers and Clancy Brothers albums.
Still, there's a bit of the Dubliners' irreverence and the Pogues' energy and abandon in their sound as well, making them more interesting than your average Irish bar band. The live atmosphere is nice, complete with cheering crowds and thumping feet, but as always in these situations, the sound suffers a bit. Indeed, O'Neill's fiddling, which won him an All-Ireland title in 1985, is hard to hear in many places. Even so, there's more than enough enthusiasm and skill in evidence to make this disc worth a listen.
February/March 1996 (Issue #62)
Top honors this time go to New York-based Irish group Four to the Bar for their third album Another Son [FTB003]. Their last album, Craic on the Road, was a good live set of old songs, but it didn't thoroughly transcend the ballad- group style of the Clancys and the Irish Rovers.
Another Son is a step forward in many ways. for one thing, there is more variety to the material. The band members wrote about half of the songs, took others from Donovan, Dick Gaughan, and William Butler Yeats, and added some energetic sets of tunes. Several of the original songs- -notably Pat Clifford's "The Western Shore," "Martin Kelleher's "The Shores of America" and David Yeates's "NY's for Paddy"--refer to the experience of emigration, which is still one of the biggest issues facing Ireland and Irish America. All three are powerful songs that demonstrate the profound ambivalence felt by most emigrants caught between a homeland they love and an adopted land where opportunities are better.
Only two traditional songs appear, "The Newry Highwayman" and "Skibbereen." The former is one of the "good night" ballads relaying a criminal's last words from the gallows-- in fact it's the only "good night" ballad I know that actually contains the words "good night"! The latter is a heartbreaking tale of the famine and subsequent exodus from Ireland. Both, also, are emigration songs--The Newry Highwayman does his robbery in London's Grosvenor Square, and the narrators of Skibbereen have left Ireland behind.
Each song is given an appropriate, contemporary, mostly acoustic and very Irish arrangement featuring guitar, fiddle, bouzouki, banjo, flute, whistle, bodhran, piano, bass... the usual Irish instruments. Keith O'Neill's fiery fiddling is a highlight (he's 1985's All-Ireland champion), as is David Yeates's resonant lead vocal. Check these guys out, they're here to stay.