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JOHN KENNEDY - "The "The girls along the road" - Veteran VT137CD

This is not a review that seeks to dissect the work track by track but rather takes the opportunity to introduce the work of John Kennedy to those who might not have heard him or even of him. Until I chanced upon him in a singaround during the Enistymon Festival in Clare earlier this year I numbered among the latter. About 1am in a crowded pub packed with singers ranging from the comical to the aspiring sean nos, I became aware of a soft spoken, elderly and quite formally dressed man who had that gift of not having to turn up the vocal volume to command attention but rather reverse the process so that the softer he sang the more attentive the pub became - that was my intro to John Kennedy.

This C.D. is a selection of songs from one of the great voices of Irish traditional song, along with some pieces from his repertoire of traditional fifing tunes played on tin whistle. The "greatness" is not borne of technical ability or powerful vocal pyrotechnics - the man is in his seventies after all - but of a certain way with a song. He has a directness and honesty wedded to some highly individual mannerisms such as the occasional unexpected breaking of a sung word into two, sometimes by means of something akin to a sob. "Sob" is misleading but is the nearest I can get to describing that particular something that he does which is so natural rather than a thought out thing that would serve to distract.

John comes from Co. Antrim, from an unusual area where due to a proliferation of mills, the people's experience has been both industrial and rural. This comes across in his material which includes "The Cloghmill Factory Girls", nestling alongside the more well-known "The Lass with the Bonny Brown Hair" and " The Corncrake", a song whose language is familiar to speakers of Ulster-Scots. There are marches, reels, polkas and hornpipes interspersed with the songs; all recorded during two Saturday sessions in Dublin where John apparently began his day with a "heart stopping" fried breakfast before recording, continuing through the day on a diet of cigarettes and white wine. Rock n' Roll lifestyle? - this man could give lessons.

An unmistakably Irish piece of drollery, "The Missus, Her Mother, the Bulldog and Me" completes an 18 track marathon of a record which was made for the Irish Traditional Music Archive. At the beginning of September this year, the Loughshore Traditional Group devoted a unique night of music to honour John Kennedy. Deservedly so, and I hope this recording brings him to a wider audience - I can't wait to see him again, but till then these recordings will help, so a sincere "thank you" to all those concerned.

Hector Christie

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This album was reviewed in Issue 35 of The Living Tradition magazine.