“Plain And Simple” by The Dubliners - album review

features in: Album Chart of 1973Album Chart of the Decade: 1970s

TJR says

What were the odds that five of the greatest Dubliners ever to live would all find themselves in the same folk group? The hirsute balladeers were now on their 12th proper album after some ten years of action but they’re as fresh as ever, sparking off each other whilst each character gets a chance to shine individually. Early doors, Barney lays aside his banjo and takes a rare lead vocal on “Fiddler's Green”, a song that was written by John Conolly and first released by Maddy Prior and Tim Hart in 1969. Barney convinces effortlessly in his role as an auld fisherman looking to get to heaven (Fiddler’s Green) where “the girls are all pretty and the beer it is free, and there's bottles of rum growing from every tree”. He brought the house down when he sung that live – people just love Barney.

In a group where the main vocalists, Ronnie and Luke, demand all the attention, it’s a nice recurring feature of their albums that the impressive talents of Barney McKenna (tenor banjo and mandolin), Ciarán Bourke (tin whistle, harmonica and guitar) and John Sheahan (fiddle, tin whistle and mandolin) are allowed to be set free on instrumental jigs and reels. There are three of them here; “Queen Of The Fair / The Tongs By The Fire”, “The Wonder Hornpipe” and “The Three Sea Captains”, the latter of which is especially good and sees the group continue with their occasional dalliance with ye olde English folk vibe, even going so far as to be delivered complete with Georgian-style harpsichord.

Luke Kelly’s main two pieces come at the close of side 1; “The Jail Of Cluian Meala” and the track which opens side 2, “The Town I Loved So Well”, a ballad for once-beautiful Derry, now plagued with violence and scarred for life. Luke’s emotive style is a big hit with many and there’s no doubting the man’s got soul – with his humanitarianism he could be an ace diplomat in any peace process.

Throughout, the magnificent Ronnie Drew is as reliable as ever with that unmistakable rough brogue of his. He veers from the sentimental “Donegal Danny”, a tale of a once-proud fisherman turned tramp who has lost his mates at sea to the humourous “Johnson’s Motor Car”, a song which is based on a real event in 1920 when a doctor in Donegal had his car commandeered by the IRA: “What will my loyal brethren say, when ere they hear the news, my car it has been commandeered, by the rebels at Dungloe?” pleads Johnson. “We'll give you a receipt for it, all signed by Captain Maher, and when Ireland gets her freedom, you'll get your motor car.” He loves his punchlines does Ronnie. The Drewmeister saves his greatest performance ‘til near the end with “Skibbereen”; why, asks a curious son, did his father leave such a beautiful Irish town for America? Failed crops, poverty, brutality and tragedy comes the stark reply:

Tis well I do remember the bleak November day, when the bailiff vans and landlord came to drive us all away, they set the roof on fire with their cursed English spleen, and that’s another reason, I left old Skibbereen. Oh, your mother too, God rest her soul, lay on the snowy ground, she fainted in her anguishing seeing the desolation ‘round, She never rose but passed away from life to immortal dreams, and that’s another reason, I left old Skibbereen. Oh, you were only two years old and feeble was your frame, I could not leave you with my friends for you bore your father's name, I wrapped you in my cóta mór at the dead of the night unseen, and I heaved a sigh and I said goodbye to dear old Skibbereen.

Struggles of the past are linked with the present day as the album comes to a dramatic end. With Northern Ireland raw with recent atrocities such as the Ballymurphy Massacre (11 civilians shot by the British Army), the McGurk's Bar bombing (15 civilians killed by the UVF) and Bloody Sunday (14 civilians killed by the British Army), the Dubliners certainly weren’t shying away from the issue. Tit-for-tat retaliations had made 1972 one of the bloodiest and deadliest years in Northern Ireland’s recent history. “Rebellion”, the album’s stirring closer, tells it like it is without explicitly referencing topical events. Chest out, head high, Ronnie introduces the piece resolutely: “The history of Ireland is a history of oppression, and the struggle of the people against it. The history of grasping landlords and conniving politicians who sought to deprive the people of their birth-right. At regular times in Ireland’s past, these grievances have boiled over and the ordinary people have reacted in the only way open to them… REBELLION”. Luke and Ronnie proceed to take turns with the various pieces in the medley as the album goes out in a patriotic blaze of glory, with vocals and mandolins tugging at hearts and minds. As the album liner notes put it: “The Dubliners… each an individual talent, but collectively as powerful as a force ten gale.

The Jukebox Rebel

A1 [05:38] 7.8.png The Dubliners - Donegal Danny (Phil Coulter, Bill Martin) Folk
A2 [02:38] 6.1.png The Dubliners - Queen Of The Fair / The Tongs by The Fire (Phil Coulter, Bill Martin - Traditional) Folk
A3 [04:23] 8.8.png The Dubliners - Fiddler’s Green (John Conolly) Folk
A4 [01:49] 8.2.png The Dubliners - Johnson’s Motor Car (Willie Gillespie) Folk
A5 [02:28] 6.4.png The Dubliners - The Wonder Hornpipe (Traditional) Folk
A6 [02:50] 7.1.png The Dubliners - The Jail Of Cluian Meala (Traditional) Folk
B1 [06:21] 6.1.png The Dubliners - The Town I Loved So Well (Phil Coulter) Folk
B2 [04:37] 7.3.png The Dubliners - The Ballad Of Ronnie’s Mare (Phil Coulter, Bill Martin) Folk
B3 [03:03] 7.1.png The Dubliners - The Three Sea Captains (Traditional) Folk
B4 [03:05] 9.1.png The Dubliners - Skibbereen (Traditional) Folk
B5 [04:30] 9.7.png The Dubliners - Rebellion - Wrap The Green Flag ’Round Me Boys / The West’s Awake / A Nation Once Again (Caoimhighin Ó Raghallaigh - Thomas Davis - Thomas Davis) Folk

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