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Monday, November 28, 2016

Ready to face the machine guns... of Mo McMorrow

SIX years ago I ran home to write my weekly music blog after a wonderful singer-songwriter performed at the Corner Cafe here in Navasota, and in a rare instance, I experienced writer's block. I'm sure now I was afraid I had lost my objectivity, and sure I would be too much in love with the performer to be credible... And also painfully aware that my take on her music might be appreciated by her the least... (I had gotten some angry feedback at that time from some of the visiting musicians who hated my reviews...)  So I let it brew awhile.  

And then I forgot about it. Sorry Mo! I am ready to face the machine guns!

I do not believe in re-incarnation. But sometimes a song comes along which seems to connect me with an eternal, primeval chain of souls who reach for me from out of the past-  and possesses me- hand-in-glove, through the singer. And I have to admit that when this happens, it is usually some kind of music which is derived from Irish traditions.

Sure I love folk and country and rock and roll, and I'm learning to appreciate blues. The first time I felt this supernatural Irish effect was listening to an Eddie Rabbitt 8-track. He sang a mystical song about Ireland like he knew and loved it with all of his being... and as I listened, I too became Irish. Man I went there! An exceptional musician can do that. The same way Blind Willie Johnson and Al Green baptized me African American, and Merle Haggard brought me into the brotherhood of ex-cons. It is something wonderful and spiritual and completely a divine fruit of the imagination. Music is a way we can all celebrate the brotherhood of man... and YES woman... I am a woman whenever I listen to Jewel, or Crystal Gayle.

But when my daughter introduced me to Steeleye Span... I was a goner. I became Irish in my soul of souls, and the rest was just quaint cultural exchange. I was grooving to words I could not even understand. You Tube then fed me an infinite dive into “my past.” The crying fiddles, the driving rhythms, and tenor ecstasies... and sometimes bagpipes that choke me up when they just begin to whine. They reset my emotions instantly. 

(Click below for Cam Ye O'er Frae Franc by Steeleye Span... several versions, I love the shorter studio version the best, second from the left, but all worth listening to)


When I discovered the anthem Erin Go Bragh (Ireland forever!), I was sure I was hearing the caress of my ancestral heartstrings...

When they sing FACE THE MACHINE GUNS for Erin Go Bragh, I am so ready! 

Still, I had no clue what these folks were so mad about... But it was inspiring to be exposed to such conviction, such unanimity, all shared through soulful poetry.

 Mo McMorrow

So if you understand or even relate to any of this you will probably enjoy Mo McMorrow... a darlin' lass of Irish extraction who sings here in Texas like a passionate angelic missionary. And you will grow to love her recordings like Irish Gold from across the sea. I heard her first in Schulenburg, Texas at a downtown festival... She had commandeered a beauty parlor for the evening and won everyone's hearts... and most of them were of hard-core German extraction. I played her first CD (Excellent: Mona Lisas Don't Cry) until it had so many dings in it that it became irritating... I had to find another one... That led me to her next album.

McMorrow's album called Hangin' from a Nail (2013) continues her weaving of American and Irish traditions, and within she does her own version of the Irish standard, Spancil Hill.

Just twenty-three, Michal Considine wrote this song in the 1800's while dying in the gold fields of California. A native-born Irishman, his gaelic impetuousness led him to seek riches in a faraway land. And there he perished. But before he passed away, his adventure over, his gift of Irish poetry captured his epic regret as he realized he would never see Ireland, or the love of his life, again. He sent the song on where he could never go, to say good bye to everything he loved about his beloved home.

It was a very sad song, full of poetic, cultural pride and ethos. Thank goodness, the Irish loved it, and it has become a national anthem, if not a warning to NEVER LEAVE, ever since.

 Spancil Hill is the site of a traditional horse fair in County Clare.

You see, Irish music traditions are built on the same foundation as blues; Oppression and depression and the human struggle to endure. The music is large, hearty, focusing on the “small” people with huge loves, hates and passions. It is a catharsis for its audience, salving their hurts, but finding oneness in corporate self-pity and identity in a people chained to their own negativity. Like blues it will never go away as long as oppression (and Ireland!) exists. When you hear this music you remember your own pains and sufferings, and find comfort and community in the music. And it is good every once in awhile to free this stuff, which we tend to internalize, out of our systems. Thus Irish music has a very liberating effect.

So the Irish will always be the proud custodians of bedrock melancholy and discontent. Maybe it is in their DNA. Thankfully some of us have escaped. Mo is one, one of those exceptional musicians, transforming her passion for life and lore into soulful, engaging, inspiring performances.

But some of us have never escaped, or even sadder, never known what we escaped. But if you want to know... If you have a restless, wandering soul, if you are feelin' a bit Irish... Get Hangin' on a Nail, and especially Spancil Hill... but fetch your box of tissues first. Click below to have your socks blown off!


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